Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading Round-Up -- Yee Haw!

Hey everyone!  Yes, I'm busy Accomplishing all sorts of things, just not on the list.  For example, I did FOUR loads of laundry and mopped the bathroom floor.   I know, STEP BACK!  I'm a powerhouse MACHINE!

Anyhoo, it's almost time for one of my favorite holidays:  SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY.  On November 24th, the day after "Black Friday" and right before "Cyber Monday," people are encouraged to shop their local independent brick and mortar stores, and help their communities thrive.  Did you know that for every $100 spent at a locally-owned, independent business, $68 stays in the local economy compared to only $43 if spent at a national chain?  And I don't know what the stats are for online (I should), but I know it's much worse.

This is actually sponsored by AMEX, and you can get credit for spending at participating local stores.  I don't know that much about it (I don't have an AMEX card), but I found a link to a blog that has more info:   And then, of course there is the 3/50 Project which I love and is still gaining traction:  pick 3 shops you want to support, spend $50.  If that's too much, just do what you can.  More info on their facebook page:

As you all know, I'm a big fan of independent bookstores, so I'll be spending part of my Small Business Saturday at one or two of them and showing them some love. And since I've been asked lately to do another "round-up" of book recommendations, here's a list you can bring with you to your local indie and show them some love, too!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Oh.  My.  God.  Of any book I've read this year, this one had me the most HOOKED.  I could not put it down.  And, apparently, neither could nearly everyone else I knew who has read it.  I was on an airplane, and the flight attendant stopped her drink orders and said, "OH MY GOD.  WHAT PART ARE YOU ON?"  "I just finished the part where ---- --- -- --- ----" and she said, "JUST WAIT.  OH MY GOD, JUST WAIT."  Considering most flight attendants just ignore me or sullenly hand me my Diet Coke, I took this as a sign.  THIS BOOK WAS GENIUS.  And that is all I'm going to say -- you need to get this for yourself.  (Pick up her others as well, especially if you've read Gone Girl already.)

Lamb by Christopher Moore.  Okay, I lied.  Gone Girl wasn't the only book that had me hooked in the past few months -- this one did, too.  And what's funny -- this book had been recommended to me for years, but I always avoided it.  I didn't really know what it was about, but I didn't want to read anything that was overtly religious, and even worse, gratuitously sacrilegious.  I was SO wrong, SO SO wrong.  My boyfriend said the night before I was leaving for a trip to NYC, "Look, I love this book.  Take this on your trip and try it."  I sighed, resigned, and agreed.  And I read it the whole way there.  And that night, with Manhattan twinkling below my hotel room and beckoning me to be a part of it, I stayed in and ordered room service and read.  Happily.  It's brilliant and hysterical and I LOVED it.  And shhhh... this may be sacrilegious in itself, but it rivals Owen Meany for me.  (And we all know how much I love Owen Meany.)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  And still on the funny theme... This is what I loved about this book:  I never knew where it was going to go.  Having been a creative writing major, I'm pretty good at getting into the craft of novels -- formulas and twists and all that.  I even guessed the twists of "The Usual Suspects" AND "The Crying Game," so I'm kind of a pro.  (And kind of annoying.)  There are laugh-out-loud scenes, and she captures the Seattle lifestyle well, from what I gather.  I gobbled this one up, and you will, too.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  On the same day I got Bernadette, I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores in the country, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.  Oh, I love that store.  It's bright and warm and cheery and being in there elevates your mood 1000%.  And oh, that heavenly smell of new books...  Why can't they bottle that scent?  Anyway, I was talking to one of the fantastic booksellers there, and asked her if she had any recommendations.  She led me to the shelf, picked up this book, and hugged it to her chest, professing her love for it.  OKAY, SOLD.  Any book that a passionate bookseller hugs is good with me.  (And I would know -- I did the same thing back in my bookseller days.)  I read it in my hotel room and cried.  It's pretty sentimental (I can see Pixar making the movie), but sometimes that's just what the bookseller ordered.  The cover's not pretty, but don't judge.  Well, this one, anyway. (See below.  I do it, too.)

 The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.  Okay, remember that bookstore I was talking about above?  Parnassus?  Yeah, this is the co-owner of that bookstore.  And she's incredible.  I had a professor in grad school that I didn't like, and she was a big Ann Patchett fan.  So, since I didn't like this professor, I didn't read Ann Patchett.  My God, what a huge mistake.  (The reading Ann Patchett part.  I still don't care for this professor.)  I feel like I missed out, but at the same time, I feel like I've discovered a "new" author and am looking forward to more.  I love that feeling!  I started off with this, her debut novel.  It's one of the most beautiful first novels I've ever read.  Sigh.  To be that talented and to be THIS AWESOME: Ann Patchett on The Colbert Report ... She is leading the way in the fight for brick-and-mortar bookstores, which makes her my absolute hero.

Eli the Good by Silas House.  Other heroes of mine are our sales reps to independent bookstores -- I value their judgement completely, and I know if they recommend a book, it's going to be good.  Especially our Southern territory reps -- they know that I love Southern literature, so when they tell me they love something after aaaaalll they have to read for all their publishers, I know it's something special.  Eli the Good is exactly that.  Set in 1976, this book evokes that time and the summer of the bicentennial but not in a nostalgic, campy way, but a real and true heartbreaking way.  It's being marketed as a Young Adult book, but I wholly disagree.  While Eli is a 10-year-old narrator, the themes are sophisticated.  NOT that YA books can't be sophisticated, but this book beautifully breaks the golden rules of the YA formula.  I feel the same way when I read that To Kill a Mockingbird is considered YA because Scout is a child protagonist -- NO. Eli the Good shouldn't be pigeonholed into the YA genre (and I am NOT in any way disparaging that genre because I love it) -- this book is for all ages.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  Ahhh... Speaking of YA, here is a YA novel that I really loved.  There's a lot more to teen books than vampires and dystopian futures and bitchy girls in private schools, and this is a shining example of why Young Adult Fiction RULES.  It's the story of entwined lives in modern day and during The French Revolution...  And it works.  The feelings and language are so real and captivating, and to use that old cliche -- it's a page turner.  I loved this book so much that I'm going to share a kind of embarrassing story:  Right after I got this book, I was out running errands and it was in my car.  I was hungry, so I decided to just go through a drive-through, eat quickly, and finish everything I had to do that day.  So I got my food, opened the book to read while I was eating...  And two hours later I looked up and realized what had happened.  I sat in the stupid Wendy's parking lot for 2 hours, completely enthralled, and never got my errands done.  And you know what?  It was totally worth it.  I loved it so much that I wanted to write the author an email to tell her, but I never did.  But I LIKED her on Facebook, so there's that.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.  Okay, this is an author I did email to tell her how much I loved her book.  I wasn't even finished with it yet and I had to tell her that I kept squealing, "YES!" as I read.  I was a HUGE fan of the Little House books growing up -- I read them over and over again (well, not Farmer Boy -- that was about a BOY) and would stare and stare at the Garth Williams illustrations.  The pig bladder balloon!  The maple syrup candy on pans of ice!  The little cave house on the banks of Plum Creek!  BLIND MARY AND A KITTEN!  My God, I wanted to wear a bonnet, churn butter, and slap a bear on the nose.  And so did Wendy McClure (longtime BUST "Pop Tart" columnist), and she took a pilgrimage to all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's homes and sites.  I loved it.  So when I had a chance to meet her at a book convention, I gushed like a creepy stalker fan.  But instead of calling the cops, we shared lunch, and when she came to California I got to see her and go to her reading and wear a bonnet.  She's awesome, and so is this and her first book, I'm Not the New Me.  Get them both.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  Another one I loved when I was younger, and for some reason I've been thinking so much about Francie and Neeley and Johnny and Kate lately.  I guess it's my reality check -- when I'm distressed about money, lamenting about how broke I am, I think of this book and it puts things in perspective, and how this family persevered.  Yeah, yeah, it's one of those "triumph of the human spirit" books, but it's so good. The coffee scene has always stayed with me, and I still get a small thrill when I think of it.  And whenever I hear The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" I think of this book, too.  A definite classic, and we all need to read more classics, right?  Start with this one.

 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  Another classic, or destined to be.  (If you haven't read this or Lolita by Nabokov by now, you really have to.)  I must admit, I didn't read this book for YEARS.  Remember when Friendster (R.I.P) was all popular, and you could list your books you liked?  This book was the most popular hipster book on there.  Every single hipster that had ever logged into the internet loved this book (or claimed to).  So me, being the jerk who sniffs at things like that, steadfastly refused to read any Murakami.  (There seems to be a theme of this with this Round-Up:  "Books Karen Avoided and Was REALLY, REALLY Stupid for Doing So.")  But when Jon and I moved, all my books were packed away and his weren't, and I was desperate for something to read.  I pulled Murakami off his shelf, admired the pretty cover, and started reading.  And didn't stop until I had read nearly all of Murakami's books.  This one was my favorite (of course), and long story short:  maybe I should take hipsters a little more seriously.  Ha.  Ha. 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  Here's another one I saw in the bookstores forever and never picked up.  But a few months ago, I got really sick.  I never get sick, and this sick sucked.  But do you know what doesn't suck about being sick?  Having beloved friends drop off bags of their beloved books (and soup and hot toddies) at your house to keep you entertained and on the mend.  I read some great books while I was sick, and some not so great but definitely lurid (hello, Full Service by Scotty Bowers), but this book, Life of Pi, was my favorite.  When I finished it, I wasn't just blowing my nose and wiping my eyes because I had the flu, let's just put it that way. I can't imagine how it will work as a movie, but I can't wait to see it.  And read it now before the movie comes out!

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  Okay, this is not a book that I avoided -- my God, LOOK at that cover.  It's gorgeous!  TOTALLY and ABSOLUTELY historically inaccurate and wrong for the time in which the book is set, but still.  And if you know me at all, you know I love Paris in the 1920's and all the ex-pats, and I've always been fascinated with poor Hadley Hemingway, the starter wife of that jerk, Ernest.  (And mother to Bumby.  BUMBY!)  And I wasn't disappointed -- I enjoyed it.  And sadly, I could relate a lot to poor Hadley.  But this book truly captures the time period... And my God.  LOOK at that cover!

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  Okay, fine, this is another one I bought for the cover.  Hello, Louise Brooks?  You can put Louise Brooks on a packet of headcheese and I'd eat it.  But it was good!  I mean, any time an author appropriates the history of a famous person's life there's bound to be skepticism and a bit of cheeze, but I do think that Ms. Moriarty did her homework.  And Louise Brooks isn't the star per se -- the main character is, indeed, her chaperone on a trip to New York, Cora Carlisle.  On the surface she seems like a proper Kansas City matron, when in fact she has secrets of her own.  And actually, a budding early feminist.  If you want to read more about Louise Brooks, read her well written and sassy memoir Lulu in Hollywood, or the excellent biography by Barry Paris.  But if you want a terrific read, perfect for vacation and the holidays, The Chaperone is a great choice.  (And people will admire the cover as you read.  Can't get that experience on an e-reader!)

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.  I have a kind of silly criteria, but one in which I firmly believe:  I tend to judge famous people on whether or not I would like to have dinner with them.  As for Caitlin Moran, I want to sit next to her at a dinner party, talking about people's outfits, music, books, and stealing sips from a hidden flask.  So, basically, I LOVE HER.  I'd heard about this book and was excited to read it, and after I got past the very British colloquialisms and slang, I plowed through it, loving the ride.  She is so refreshing, and a new voice for feminism which I think is so desperately needed.  After all the election brouhaha, and seeing many young women in the past few years claim that they aren't feminists, it has been making me (and my friends) think that there needs to be a bit of an overhaul for the movement -- we can't have scary, angry women frightening these young women away.  The anger is good, but it's time for change.  (Cue Peter Brady.)  Caitlin Moran puts it simply: “Do you have a vagina?” she writes. “Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you said yes to both, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.” She's fun, she's funny, and totally herself.  And what I loved was that she doesn't cry "sisterhood" -- she says that you don't HAVE to like someone because they're a woman.  THANK YOU.  (And I'm hoping that she will be responsible for the decrease in Brazilian waxes.)  In any case, I loved this book and her, so please, check it out.  (Men, too!)

Better Than Fiction by Lonely Planet.  Okay, yes, I'm a bit biased.  But this anthology is fantastic!  Joyce Carole Oates, Isabelle Allende, Tea Obrecht, Alexander McCall Smith...  Top notch fiction writers writing about a favorite subject: travel.  I love anthologies, and this is a great one to read on vacation or for giving to the jetsetter in your life.  Perfect for reading in short spurts or cover to cover.  And pssst...  Lonely Planet has a lot of great books out this season.  Don't overlook the Travel section in your bookstore -- there are wonderful treasures to be found, and tons of inspiration to be had!

So, there's my list.  (And there's this list and this list, too.)  I hope you all will be able to use it, and see something you like.  Every single time I go into a bookstore or record store, all my thoughts of what I want fly straight out of my head.  (It happened to me while writing this blog entry, too -- I know I read many more fantastic books this year, but I drew some blanks.  Though I think I got enough in this post, hmmm?)  So having a list makes it easier, but keep yourself open to browsing, too.  Sometimes that's how you find the true gems... And listen to those booksellers.  THEY ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

And please, send me YOUR recommendations, because I need to know what to get next Saturday, too!  Anything you've read and loved lately?

So next Saturday, please frequent your local independent bookseller, and your mom and pop/ small business stores in your town.  And I beg you, implore you, get on my knees to plead with you: please reconsider buying things from Amazon.  Yes, they're cheap.  Yes, it's great to be lazy and shop from bed.  Yes, it's all right there.  And you know what won't be?  Your local stores.  Welcome to Walmart-ville.  Look, I understand, and maybe you can't find everything locally, and you need Amazon to get those hard to find gifts.  If you must do that, okay, but please think of Amazon as a last resort.  Together we can help to strengthen our communities, but we have to leave the house to do it.  That's easy, right?  Right?  RIGHT!  And if you don't want to or can't leave the house, here is a fantastic site where you CAN shop from your local indie bookseller from the comfort of your own couch:

But!  If you love your e-reader, (or was looking to buy one), let me recommend this -- The Kobo..  It will work with independent stores' platforms, so you can give them some love instead of the Amazon with The Kindle.  Plus it's supposed to be fantastic.  Maybe even someday I might break down and buy one, but I'm not ready yet.  I just had to clear out and condense an entire bookcase and my heart was being ripped in two...  But it healed again nicely when I gave all those books to friends and saw how happy they were.  I love lending and giving books, and I can't do that with an e-reader.

So anyway, have a wonderful holiday, and may you get lots Accomplished and lots read!  I have a lot to be thankful for, and independent booksellers and all of YOU are on that list.  Gobble gobble! 


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Accomplishment #43: Enter a Sports Competition (#34)

If you know me at all (and even if you don't, you could probably guess), I'm not much of a sports person.  I was the stereotypical "picked last for the team" in elementary school, and would sit in the outfield, picking at the crabgrass and watching disinterestedly as a ball would come near me.  I swam in the summer but couldn't fathom getting up at 5 for Swim Team practice; I played tennis and was okay unless I had to hit the ball back to someone.  (Hey, I had a good serve!)  I hated P.E. in high school so much that when I learned you could get credits for it by being in the marching band, I signed up -- despite the social stigma and the fact that I could not play an instrument.  (Talk about social stigma -- my friend and I, and our lack of talent, annoyed the "band geeks" so much that even THEY hated us.)  It was TOTALLY worth it to never have to change into shorts and run around a football field EVER AGAIN.  To this day when people want to go to the gym or play baseball or go running, I assume that they had much better P.E. teachers than I did, or were better at kicking balls.

However, when I got to college, P.E. was kind of ridiculous.  General P.E. was run by one of the coaches for some team or another, and he didn't know who anyone was so we all got A's.  Nice!  Then I took tennis, slept through most of it, and managed a C thanks to that serve.  (I told you.)  And then, senior year, I fulfilled my last P.E. requirement:  BOWLING.

Bowling!  A sport where you could drink and smoke (back then) at the same time, and most of that time you're sitting and drinking and smoking!  That's what our teacher, Nanci, did anyway.  She was about 100 years old, had short frosted hair, wore giant tee shirts tied fashionably at the waist with patterned leggings, and smoked those long, brown cigarettes.  I think she lived at the bowling alley.

Bowling was great because for the first time I wasn't necessarily worse than anyone else -- everyone was fairly bad except one kid whose license plate said "SHEFTY" so that's what we called him.  He didn't put his fingers in the holes of the ball; he'd slide the ball down the lane and it would hook and curve and he'd get strikes.  I was fascinated, but whenever I tried to do that, I'd get a gutterball -- though it wasn't much different than any other time I tried any other way.  In the end I got an A and felt like I got away with something.  It was a sport that was fun, even if I sucked at it.  Plus it was a good excuse to wear my Seagram's bowling shirt I'd found in a thrift shop. 

Over the years I still went bowling, bragging to everyone that I took bowling in college.  Of course they assumed that meant I was good, but they figured out quickly that even with professional training I was still lucky if I got a strike.  For a few years a group of us would get together and bowl -- mostly because we could wear our thrifted bowling shirts and drink -- the bowling was secondary.  We would even go to different bowling alleys in the area (most of which are sadly long gone), and even took trips to Reno and Tahoe to bowl. (And drink.  And gamble.)  We never joined a league -- it was just fun to get together and hang out.  Yet despite all that, all those hours spent hurling balls down many lanes, I never got any better it.  But it was really fun.

A few months ago, I was emailing with my beloved friend and old roommate, Marcia, and we decided to meet somewhere (in person -- what a novel idea!), and decided to go bowling -- more fun than just lunch or shopping or whatever.  It was great -- we got caught up, and as we were leaving, we saw a flyer for the summer leagues.  Called "The Groove League," it was 2 months long, every Monday night, and included in the $16 fee was shoe rental, pizza, and a pitcher of soda -- and black lights and music videos.  The flyer had pictures of bowling pins and pizza on it, and just looked so earnest.  It sounded so goofy and fun that we decided to do it -- but we needed to find two other people for our team.

I had two ladies in mind that I thought would be perfect, down to the fact that the four of us all wear vintage cat-eye glasses. One was my friend Shona, whom I adore. I'm in a supper club called Les Dames aux Gateaux with her --every month, a group of smart, lovely and most fabulous ladies get all gussied up and go to old restaurants.  (It's pretty much the best thing ever, and I'm still thrilled and honored I was asked to join.)  Shona, the founder Baby Doe, and I even took a field trip to L.A. and went to Phyllis Diller's house and Richard Simmons' aerobics class!  (Doe and I didn't do it, but Shona did.)  Those are all stories for another time, but I knew that Shona would totally get into the bowling league idea -- she's fun and fabulous like that and up for anything.  I was totally right.

The other prospective team member was my newest friend, Moe.  We "met" online because we had mutual Facebook friends, and then met in person at a Nancy Drew reading at a local bookstore.  (Um, could anything be better than that?)  I thought she was one of the funniest people I had ever met: quick, witty, and genuinely awesome.  I loved our online interactions --  we spent hours picking out hobo names for ourselves, and I laughed until I cried.  Still, I was worried that since I didn't know her well, she would think I was super weird if I asked her to join a bowling league.  But she said yes right away.  I guess my fears were unfounded -- after all, there's some heavy bonding, and a touch of good weirdness, when two people spend hours picking out hobo names.

Most of all, I was sure that all of us would totally get along.  Shona and Moe went to the same high school but hadn't seen one another in years, but reunited at a Tupperware Party at my house.  (I know, I know.  We sound like we stepped out of 1962 with that statement.)  And I knew that they both would love Marcia and her quirky sense of humor as much as I do, and vice versa, and that we would all laugh a lot.  I was even betting that we'd even have more fun than these ladies.


The first night, Marcia, Moe and I met up along with all the other league members in the bowling alley bar (Shona couldn't make it), and before the meeting started, Marcia pulled out a notebook with a list of names.  Oh, I wish I had that list because it was GENIUS.  Everything from "The Happy Hookers," to Strikes on a Plane" to a nod to Ida Blankenship from "Mad Men."  But we decided on "The Gutter Gals," because we knew it would be apt.  And minutes later I knew that Moe and Marcia would love one another.  We were handed a piece of paper detailing the rules, but it had printed funny, and the first letters of words from each column had been truncated.  "What's an 'andicap?'" I said, joking.  "It's when we get drunk and go home and beat our wives," Moe quipped, and the three of us started crying from laughing so hard, and started Googling Andy Capp's wife's name.  I knew that this would be magical. The Gutter Gals were officially Official!

Meet The Gutter Gals!

And sure enough, it was magical.  By the second week, when Shona joined us, half of the people who signed up had dropped out, so that left the league with only three teams:  "The Blues,"  "HIGH OCTANE," and The Gutter Gals.  We could tell that Mike, the secretary, was bummed at the low turnout, but we were delighted.  Inside jokes were instantly established, our favorite pizza was chosen, and after a couple of bumpy weeks playing contemporary hip hop, they abandoned the videos and started playing 80's music along with the disco lights which we definitely preferred.  So not only did we bowl, we danced to Rick Astley, Genesis and Whitesnake.

Moe rocks out to Whitesnake
The first order of business was to buy matching socks from the vending machine:

And to take "official" group photos:

And to check into Facebook:

Have the right accessories:

Pay homage to Phyllis Diller when she died:

Oh yeah...  And bowl!

 Marcia, our captain, was clearly the star bowler.  Look at that form!

 About to throw another gutter ball

Bowling is glamorous

There was the thrill of victory

And the agony of defeat.

But it didn't really matter.  Every Monday, I could not wait to get to the bowling alley, where I would get to hang out with these fantastic friends and bowl and gossip and eat pizza and drink soda and do dumb dance moves to Men Without Hats and have a blast.  We really were a team -- clapping for one another (but we would clap excitedly for anyone who got a strike, regardless of what team -- the other people thought we were weird), and rooting for each other, even when we didn't do so well.  The Gutter Gals became a fun unit, and here's an Accomplishment in itself:  I started to love Mondays.  I never thought THAT would be possible, but I just loved what we were doing and these gals so much. 

The summer and the 8 weeks flew by, and last Monday was our last night.  We wore our bowling ensembles and tiaras:

and I brought the world's meltiest and ugliest cake for everybody.

Of course it was superfun as usual, but it was also a bit bittersweet.  We bowled our hearts out, and Shona bowled her best game ever! 

STRIKE on the first frame!!!!
But when it came time for the very last ball to be bowled, we were all pretty sad.

Then it was time for the award ceremony -- after all, this really was a competition!  We had been paying dues into a kitty, and now it was time to show us the money.  (Or not.  Remember, there were only three teams.)

Drumroll, please:

We came in second place -- $20 each!!!!  WE WON SILVER!!!!!!

Our buddies HIGH OCTANE came in first.  They won ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Marcia won for best lady bowler!!!  FIVE DOLLARS!!!

And get this:  I won $5 for ladies' highest handicap!!!  I'm not sure what that means, but I think it means Best Worst Bowler!

But I won!  I won at a sport!!!  ME!!!  I never, ever, EVER thought THAT would ever happen. That felt pretty good for someone who was always picked last, and spent more time bored in the outfield than up at bat.  I don't suck so hard after all!  I know it's not as exciting as an Olympic medal, but clearly I'm happier with my awards than SOME people are with theirs.

What.  Ever.
As we sat and ate our last pizza together, I felt sad.  While Marcia, Moe and I signed on again for Winter League (it's the Big Time -- against real bowlers AND a trip to Reno!), Shona can't do it this winter because of her schedule.  So it was truly the last night for the four of us.  We sat and chatted and laughed and reminisced, and thanked each other for making the summer so much fun.  I loved being part of this group, and our mighty little team.  I loved that the three of them became good friends, too, and I know that all of us will stay friends and in touch.  And I loved that we tried something new, had fun, and were totally rewarded in many ways.   And as we sat there,with Moe pulling the cheese off her pizza and Marcia eating the crust (their usual routine), the music that came on was "I Believe I Can Fly" and it was straight out of a chick flick.  Except, since it was us, it started us on the topic of the weird video where R Kelly was in the closet and how he liked to pee on people, and what is THAT all about...  See?  Our team was magic.

Summer leaguin' -- had us a blast
But I am excited for our new league -- our friend Barb is joining The Gutter Gals as our new fourth, and she's so much fun that I know we'll have a great time.  Plus we recruited 8 other fun and fabulous ladies -- two other teams -- so that is going to be awesome!  We'll be bowling with and against some serious bowlers, so it will be better to have some goofiness, and not take it too seriously.  And who knows.  Maybe we'll win something again.  But let's face it -- it really isn't about how you win or lose.  It's how you play the game...  And what you're wearing.  Duh!

Forty-three down, 54 to go.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Raising Money for a Charity Redux

Hi all,

Two weeks from today, I will be putting on super ugly but functional sporty type shoes, an outfit that will include some sort of fleece material, and a crown, and walking 6 miles through Golden Gate Park.  Trust me, I would not put on sporty type shoes for just ANY occasion, no way -- I'm doing it to raise money for the 2012 SF AIDS Walk.

It's a cause that is near and to dear my heart, and I vowed years ago that I would keep walking until there was a cure.  This year is no exception, but sadly donations are way down which is so hard -- people's lives depend of the SF AIDS' Foundation's services, and without this fundraising, a lot of people will suffer and go without.  I hate to think of that happening to any of my -- or yours, or anyone's -- loved ones.  Which is why I walk.  The story behind it all is one of my favorite posts, and you can read it here

I am humbly asking for donations again this year -- every little bit counts. I, and the SF AIDS Foundation and the people it serves, would greatly appreciate it.  I know times are still tight, and it seems like every five minutes we're all getting requests to donate money to save a million animals from certain death, fund art projects and sabbaticals, sponsor people's cousin's daughter's best friends cancer treatments or cakewalks, help soldiers and small businesses, fund firefighters and food banks... It's so overwhelming and the barrage getting more difficult to deal with -- I totally understand.  (Sucker that I am, more often than not, I do donate.  I figure I can skip 2 cocktails out at a bar and help someone eat for a week or get medical care.  And it makes me feel good and not hungover the next day.  Still, it's way overwhelming and it feels like constantly being clobbered over the head, I know.) 

But if you can find it in your heart (and wallet) to sponsor me, that would be wonderful.  I am so grateful to those who have already donated -- much love and good karma to you all.  And if you want big love and good karma, my link is here -- Karen's donation page.

Thank you, thank you...  Sister Tuna Noodle and I totally appreciate it.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

B-Boy Bouillabaisse

 This is a little different that anything I usually post, but I figured hey, why not...

I must admit, I've been pretty crushed by the celebrity deaths this past week.  Maurice Sendak, of course, was one of The Greats -- every childhood should be filled with his Wild Things, Pierre, and even his cunning little vixens.  He was the greatest author I ever saw speak -- a curmudgeonly demeanor, yet amidst his "bahs" his words were so honest and even gentle, and he always seemed to be on the side of the children and respected them wholly.  (No namby pamby coddling from him, no sir!)  I loved him.  Then Vidal Sassoon...  I met him when he did a book signing at my old bookstore, and he was the kindest, most gracious and gentlemanly author that we ever hosted.  I was in awe ("ohmigod, Vidal SASSOON!") and he told me I had beautiful hair.  I don't, but that's a testament to how nice he was.  His passing was a punch in the chest.  Yet both of these men, while I'm sorry they're gone, they led lives so full and shared so much with the rest of us that I can't help but just be grateful they lived.

But the one I really loved that we lost this week was Adam Yauch, of course.  MCA.  He was taken way too soon -- 47 was way too young to go, and I think that he had a lot of good left to do.  And it's funny -- I was almost shocked at the outpouring of love for him on the old facebook feed.  I mean, I knew on a certain level that a lot of people loved The Beastie Boys, but I didn't realize that so many of my friends would be so affected.  But I guess it makes sense -- they were smarmy teenagers when we were, and we all kind of grew up together.  (Though admittedly he grew up a lot better and kinder than most of the rest of us did.)

I was standing on 5th Avenue when I heard he died and I felt my knees grow a bit weak.  It was almost surreal -- whenever I'm in New York, The Beasties are on a constant loop in my head.  Almost annoyingly so, as they are earworm fragments:  "My man MCA has a beard like a billy goat/whoo whoo! Is the disco call/So I'm out pickin' pockets at the Atlantic Antic/And nobody wants to hear you cause your rhymes are so frantic/Homeboy, throw in the towel/ Your girl got d***d by Ricky Powell/ HEEELLLOOOO BROOOOOOKLYN!!!!"  Yeah, constant, but still, it's what always happens to me in NYC and I like it. But suddenly it wasn't amusing -- it was sad.  the Beastie Boys had created an image of new York City for me, and I have never been there without thinking of their "narration," and the legend they created surrounding it.  And now one of its favorite citizens was gone.  I sat in my hotel room and listened to "Paul's Boutique" and felt sad and old.

A few years ago I did a reading with a "rock'n'roll" theme at Litquake, and after wracking my brain I wrote the one rock'n'roll story I have in my kind of uptight, nerdy life:  the summer I wished desperately to be a groupie for The Beastie Boys.  I haven't looked at it since I performed it (and it's much better performed, I think, because I've listened to "Paul's Boutique so many times I can get the B-Boy inflections down, boooyyyeeee), but I found it today and thought I'd post it here.  I don't usually post things I write, but what the hell. It's far from deep or meaningful, but it was fun.  Enjoy.

Like many bookish nerdy girls, I worked in a bookstore while in high school, college, and beyond.  I loved inhaling the smell of books as I walked through the door, and I loved the fact that I worked in a bookstore – it made me feel not just nerdy but smart.  And I loved that anything I ever wanted to know was all right there, for a 30% discount or for free while eating lunch in the breakroom.

But the best part about it was stripping.  As in stripping the covers off paperbacks to return them to the publishers, and we could have the books for free.  The world was my oyster!  So much to learn, so much to choose from – I could read Proust and Dickens and Austen and Plath, perfect for an English major like me.  But more often than not, the naked books slipped into my purse were actually “Sweet Valley High” novels, and one book that has stayed with me in memory and every move from apartment to apartment: “I’m With the Band” by Pamela Des Barres.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Des Barres’ tome – it is the story of her life as a rock’n’roll kitten, and her rollicking adventures cavorting with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimmy Page, and Keith Moon.  And it wasn’t that she was just hanging out with these people – she made an entire career out of being a bona fide groupie.  To me, her life seemed to be filled with sunshine and flowers, sweet hazy smoke and musky patchouli, feather boas and velvet capes (and the occasional whip and chain thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Page).   It all seemed so glamorous, and being a groupie sounded way more fun than working in a bookstore.  I envied her position and guileless hipness, and her uncanny ability to be in the Right Place at the Right Time.  And, of course, her liaises with famous rockstars. 

She was a total inspiration.  I, too, wished for that VIP pass beyond the velvet rope.  How awesome would it be to sail into the coolest clubs while wearing fabulous clothes, catching the eye of the Rockstar Du Jour, and going back to a swanky Sunset Blvd hotel for some crazy partying and mind blowing sex and then write a best selling memoir filled with flattering photos of me and the hoi polloi?  It would be TOTALLY AWESOME. 

But let’s face it – there were some obstacles for my groupie-dom.  I was not a nubile sex kitten in skimpy outfits, ready for a rock’n’rollin’ good time.  I was a bookstore nerd, more likely to get hit by a bus than catch a rockstar’s eye.  And the other obstacle:

It was the 80’s.

Sure, that one guy from Depeche Mode was cute, and one of my friends?  Totally had sex with the other guy from Depeche Mode! And while I’m sure Robert Plant was all sex with his flowing locks in the 70’s, but by the 80’s, the flowing locks adorned the likes of Axl Rose and Whitesnake, and their contribution to the hole in the ozone layer with their liberal use of Aqua Net did nothing for the sexy factor.  And, well, most of the bands I liked – new wave – it was hard to determine which gender the members of these bands preferred.  (Though, admittedly, I was a sucker for those boys.  More on that another time.)

But despite these obstacles, I had my groupie crush, an object of desire.  Had I been a decade younger and he’d been the Teen Beat magazine type, his poster would have been all over my walls.  And I was sure we were destined to be together.

Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock from The Beastie Boys.

I had been an okay fan of License To Ill.  I believed one had to fight for their right to party, and a brass monkey sounded like a delicious cocktail.  And Ad Rock, the whiny one, was pretty cute.  But hearing about all the hoopla surrounding “Paul’s Boutique” made me go out and buy it – ON CASSETTE – the day it came out.  The sheer genius of it made me flip the tape over and over,  and shake my head at the thrill and craft – the once obnoxious party boys had gone to another level and had become artistes. Plus the sampling of the Jam and the soundtrack to Shaft made me realize that “the whiny one” – who must have been the aficionado behind the genius (because he was the cutest) – and I were meant to be.  I was totally ready to get funky.

 At the time, I lived in Southern California, and the Beastie Boys did, too.  It was kismet that we would run into one another and our eyes would lock and he’d be all, “YOU’RE DOPE.” And I’d be all, “Awwww yeeeah,” and we would shake our rumps.  It was only a matter of time.  And in that meantime, I convinced my friends Raina and Monica that they were totally meant to be with MCA and Mike D., the other Beastie Boys, much like we had chosen which Monkee was “ours” years before.  “Mike D’s not that cute,” Monica complained.  “He’s the dorky one. Why do I have to have the dorky one?”   “But he’s cool,” I said.  “And funny!  Come on, the line, ‘Is your name Michael Diamond?  No, my name’s Clarence’ is hilarious.”  “Whatever,” she said, not buying it, but it was summer and we had nothing to do anyway.  Luckily, Raina was thrilled with her MCA destiny, and our Beastie stalking had begun. 

One night, we ran into one of Monica’s friends, Steven, at Canter’s Deli.  We gave him a ride, and of course, “Paul’s Boutique” was playing in the car – it was the only thing that was ever played in the car, and we’d committed the whole thing to memory.  “Righteous,” Steven said.  “This album is the bomb.”  We all agreed and then he said, “You know, the other night I was at the AM PM on Fairfax and Ad Rock was there and we totally smoked a fatty.”

“WHAT???” I shrieked.  I had been at that very AM PM two nights before, buying a flavorless sandwich and some gas, and Ad Rock had definitely NOT been there.  How come Steven had all the luck?

“Yeah,” he said.  “He was all, ‘Dude, you wanna smoke a j?’ and I was like, “Fuck YEAH I wanna smoke a j with a fuckin’ B-Boy.”   I couldn’t believe it.

“And then what?” I prodded. 

“We went back to his place and got stoned and played records.  It was RAD.”

“Oh.  My.  God,” I said.  “SHUT UP. Do you mean to tell me that you know where ADAM HOROVITZ lives?” 

“Yeah,” he yawned, like it was every day he hung out with major recording artists.  He directed us to an old 1920’s apartment complex on Manhattan Place near St.Andrews, and we parked in front.  “Are you gonna go in?  I mean you’re friends, right?”

He looked out the window.  “Lights are off,” he said.  “He’s not home.”

“Which one is it?”  He pointed vaguely at the dark top left apartment, and we vowed to come back.

So Raina and I (Monica lost interest because she just “couldn’t get into” Mike D) started our Beastie stakeouts, parking across the street and ducking any time a car drove by, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ad-Rock and MCA going in or out.  One night we even bought eggs, in homage to “Egg Raid on Mojo” (from their punk rock EP Pollywog Stew) and “Egg Man” from Paul’s Boutique, and smashed them onto the sidewalk, our own in-joke calling card that we were SURE Ad Rock would get and it would intrigue him. But the apartment was always dark – maybe they were out promoting the record?  Going to star-studded parties?  Visiting family in Brooklyn?  But we kept hearing stories – So and So saw AdRock and Mike D at the pool hall on 20th and Wilshire (THREE BLOCKS FROM MONICA’S HOUSE), a sighting at Fred Segal on Melrose, they were on Johnny Carson….they were totally in town.   And we realized that Steven was full of shit – why would a millionaire rock star live in a crappy four-plex off Wilshire, when he could buy a mansion in the Hollywood Hills?  DUH.

But one thing we got wind of that wasn’t bullshit was that our future husbands were going to be filming the video for their song “Shadrach” at The Country Club in Reseda, and they needed people to come because it was going to be a concert video.  Raina and I were all over that action.  We planned for days what we were going to wear, deciding that we were going to dress nicely, so we wouldn’t be mistaken for the dumb sluts that let the Beastie Boys pour honey all over them backstage, like in the Licensed to Ill video.  They had matured since then, too, so they wouldn’t be interested in the same lame girls. We would show them that we were TRUE fans and had class, and the new mustard colored middy shirt I got on Melrose and my black skirt would be perfect.

So out of the 8 or so girls who showed up, we were the only ones not wearing tube tops and mini skirts. 

Still, because we were of the female persuasion (as opposed to the hundreds of dudes there that were shouting, “WHAT’S THE TIME?  IT’S TIME TO GET ILL!”), we got pushed near the front, and we were all instructed to scream as loud as we could, to make it seem like a real Beastie Boys concert.

That wasn’t hard.  As soon as AdRock ran out, wearing a Virgin de Guadalupe tee shirt and a Job rolling papers baseball cap, and MCA shouted, “RIDDLE ME THIS MY BROTHER, CAN YOU HANDLE IT?” Raina and I clutched each other and collapsed in screams and tears.  There they were, just FEET in front of us!   Each time a camera came by we jumped up and did “the horns” (the universal sign of ROCK AND ROLL) and we were sure we were captured, and sure that Ad Rock and MCA would see us in the footage and think, “Who are those conservatively dressed vixens?  They will be ours!”

They did “Shadrach” a few times and we screamed until we were hoarse, and avoided the crowd surfers and stage divers, and then they did a few other songs.  And then they ran off, and it was over.  Though we debated trying to get backstage (as die-hard groupies should), we instead basked in the magic and went to DuPar’s and went over every last detail of every last second of the night. And then all there was left to do was wait for our MTV debut.

When it came, with much fanfare and a spinning globe graphic that said “WORLD PREMIERE VIDEO,” I was in a friend’s dorm room with a bunch of people. I had boasted that I, Karen Noreen Finlay, was going to be in a real live Beastie Boys video.  I was going to be a star AND Mrs. Adam Horovitz.  THIS was going to be the first of many moments of glory, a moment to rival any of Pamela des Barres’ – this was going to be IT.  I was going to transcend from a mere bookstore nerd into a rock and roll butterfly, or at least have the most awesome claim to fame EVER.

Kurt Loder introduced the video, and the familiar beats of “Shadrach” began.  And then I saw, to my crushing embarrassment and dismay: it had been ANIMATED.  All the footage had been stylistically painted over, and our place in the crowd had turned into a colorful mass blob.  “I was standing right THERE,” I pointed out to the skeptical kids in the room, who probably thought I was full of shit though one girl said, “I can totally tell that’s you!” just to be nice.

But yet – we had been there, which was cool in itself.  “Oh well,” Raina and I told one another.  “We’ll meet them one day.”

Alas, it didn’t happen – we never met our Beastie husbands.  Life went on.  Raina went on to marry someone other than MCA, and I went on to date an actual musician, and I discovered that my groupie experience was a lot different than Pamela des Barres’, and I’m just not really cut out for that life.  Now I date a former musician, now accountant, and that suits me much better.   But every time I hear Paul’s Boutique – still to this day one of my all time favorite albums -- I think about that carefree summer, the last summer I was young enough to have a crush and old enough to drive past what I thought was his house (and, um, be prosecuted as an adult).  And though I still think AdRock is, like, still illin’, I think it was more about shedding that nerdy bookishness and becoming a rock and roll butterfly, though that didn’t happen, either.  Obviously. 

But one thing’s for sure, I can still totally fight for my right to party.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I am so sorry, sad sloth!

There is an internet meme that is going around that is called 33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed in You.
Oh yes, I clicked, and I laughed. I laughed and laughed. And then I got to #12.

12. This Sloth 
This sloth kind of feels like you should update your blog more frequently.
And oh. Now I feel like there are 270 little follower sloths out there, shaking their head with disappointment. I am so sorry! Please forgive me! I've been busy but will be back soon!

Aaah well... At least it isn't as reproachful as this monkey. This monkey is staring into MY SOUL.

I hope none of you ever disappoint a monkey.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Live, in person... ME!

Hey y'all!

I am thrilled and honored to be reading this Sunday, March 18th at The Art Beat Bazaar at the Starry Plough! Art Beat Foundation is an absolutely awesome organization, run by absolutely awesome people, that promotes and nurtures the local artistic community, and The Art Beat Bazaar is an extension of their good works. No kidding, to be invited to read means a lot to me.

It would also mean a lot to me if you came! Here's the link for more information:


It's going to be such a fun day -- talented musicians Kelly McFarling and Christina Bailey, cute crafts, full menu, $3 beers... And me!

And see that "author photo?" Allow me to brag for a minute. That photo was taken at PHYLLIS DILLER'S HOUSE. Yes, you read that right. PHYLLIS DILLER. That is me, in PHYLLIS DILLER'S HOUSE, drinking a Diet Coke in front of her bookshelf and her copy of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. (It was also taken mere moments before I got in trouble for taking a picture of said copy of Valley of the Dolls.) Yes, I'm bragging, but how often in one's life does one get their picture taken in Phyllis Diller's house, unless you're Charles Nelson Reilly or Buddy Hackett? EXACTLY. If that ain't an Accomplishment, I don't know what is.

But... That's another story for another time. So if you want to hear a different story, please come on Sunday! Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Accomplishment Not in the Book... But Awesome Nonetheless.

Believe it or not, sometimes I Accomplish stuff that's not one of these 97 Things. I know, I know, that's hard to believe considering how infrequently I update -- you'd think that I don't Accomplish anything. I do, I swear! Sometimes I do dishes and laundry and wear matching shoes. I've been known to throw a great party, put together a fabulous Halloween costume, and... Okay, I can't think of anything else. I should be figuring out how to ride a horse (#93)and make a podcast (#49) and climb a mountain (#47), but... I'm not there yet.

To be honest, my main Accomplishment for 2012 is writing. My dear friend Dottie (who along with the fabulous Alix does one of the best blog around, Modern Kiddo!), said to me, "Lady, 2012 is the year of THE BOOK." And I do have some big plans!

But the thought of opening a blank Word document and starting to type can be daunting. And then to actually SHOW someone and then SEND it somewhere scares the bejeebus out of me. But last Saturday, I was poking around on, a fantastic San Francisco site about the local public transit system, that has everything from updates, riders' photos and readers' stories. My friends run it and they do a GREAT job.

Well, my most-told story in my arsenal of, well, most-told stories happened on my old commute when I lived in The Richmond in San Francisco. So I thought, "What the hell" and opened a blank Word Doc and began to type. And since I've told it so many times and remember it so clearly and so fondly, the words just flowed. And a few minutes later, my story was finished.

Before I could actually second-guess myself, and let all the usual self-doubt creep in and stop me, I hit send. And then I let the self doubt and fear creep in. But I was so proud of myself -- I did it! I sent something out for someone to read and decide if they liked it enough to use it! People, that was a Big Deal for me.

So on Thursday, I got a post on my facebook wall from the woman who runs it that said, "AMAZING" with a link -- they ran the story!

I felt like I won the lottery. I let some of that doubt creep in -- yes, I know them... Yes, they could be doing me a favor... Yes, they're being nice -- but still. There was my name, on a website, and STRANGERS were going to read it. Was it as funny as I hoped it would be? Would people like it?

But all day, my friends reposted the story and gave me nice comments, and that made me feel like a million bucks. I love my friends more than anything, and they are all so supportive and wonderful, and I basked in their love. But then, I saw comments from people THAT I DIDN'T KNOW and I started to cry:


"There aren't enough Like buttons in the cosmos for this."

"I am so sharing this. O man. I laughed the f**k out loud... I will be eternally grateful that you shared it with me."

And then out for drinks that night, I was greeted with "JACK IN THE BOX!" by someone who had seen it earlier that day. I felt like ZSA ZSA!

ALL of it was AWESOME. And made me think, "Hey, that's not so hard. And it was easy and felt good. DO IT AGAIN!" and it made me feel like I CAN do it again, and I will.

So forgive me for tooting that proverbial horn, but wow. I felt SO Accomplished. It's not one of the 97, but it's always been number one to me. Whoo hoo!

And here is the story of you'd like to read it, too!

Jack. In. The. Box. Jackinthebox.