Is It a Mad Men World?

Unlike men who claim to look at Playboy magazine “for the articles,” I really do look at fashion magazines for the pictures, not the articles. Some of the articles in fashion magazines are interesting, especially those that address women’s social and health issues around the world. But the majority are not. They are the same superficial interviews with superficial celebrities, the same 10 ways to trim your thighs and figure out what your man (or partner) is thinking. Enough already.

I do enjoy looking at clothes, however, both in magazines and in stores. Even though I buy fewer and fewer the older I get and don’t need many for a simple, work-at-home lifestyle, I still enjoy the fantasies that these costumes evoke. As with enjoying a painting, or a sculpture, or a tree or a flower, I appreciate the mixture/interplay of colors, fabrics, forms, textures. As with enjoying a movie or a play, I can transport myself into the lives they portray – jet setter, businesswoman, rock star, cowgirl, surfer, artist, Palm Springs or Palm Beach socialite.

Then I can return to my more plainly dressed life with a sense of relief and appreciation. I don’t have to walk through airports or down hallways in 6-inch heels. I don’t have to retrofit myself into a 50s style sheath dress with a girdle underneath. (Today called body shaper or Spanx, but still a girdle.)Costume

I’m not sure I understand why today’s successful businesswomen have adopted the tight, sleeveless sheath dress and high heels as their uniform. In the 1970s, we fought for the right to hold certain jobs, but also to be able to dress comfortably. Granted, some of the polyester pantsuits of the 70s were less than appealing and the wide-shouldered power suits of the 80s were over the top, but at least we were able to move freely. And I remember going to many parties wearing flowing pants and tunics that were attractive, feminine, sexy, and comfortable! When I look at women today in dresses out of Mad Men, I have a hard time breathing and my toes hurt.

Are women dressing this way to impress each other, or to impress men? Are they trying to project a sexy image so as not to threaten others with their increasing power? Most men I know, while enjoying sexuality and an attractively dressed woman, would rather walk stride-in-stride with a partner or friend who can keep up with them than one who minces along.

And the day I see men sitting around a conference table in sleeveless tops beside women in sleeveless tops (bare arms, chest showing) will be the day I know we’re playing on the same level. But the fact that tanks on men are called wife beaters might cancel this out.

What I enjoy seeing on women (and men) and what I take away from fashion photos is the fun of expressing individualty, creativity, imagination, freedom. Even though I like certain looks more than others, I think we should be able to dress the way we want. I admire those who are brave enough to dress in costume. In the writing world, I know many like this, showing up at a reading one night looking like a 40s movie actor and the following week like a punk rocker. Wearing a long skirt with a military jacket one day and gold lame jeans and boots the next.

These brave dressers don’t pay attention to the fashion rules that set age limits or admonish against this or that for certain seasons of the year or of life. Nor do they squeeze themselves into modern-day corsets and crippling footwear. Like me, they pull on a lot – or a bit – of fantasy with their clothes in the morning and then walk quickly out the door without looking back.



Not Dead Yet Woman Walking

I am fortunate to live in an area of San Diego where I can walk everywhere. As a freelance writer who works alone at home, I appreciate being able to get out almost every day in the fresh air and combine walking with running errands, going to exercise class, strolling along the oceanfront, meeting friends for lunch, or even calling on a business client. If the day ever comes that I have to give up driving, I could survive without a car.

But now I’m beginning to wonder how long I can survive walking. It’s becoming scarier and crazier out there every day to be a pedestrian.

We already know it’s crazier to drive on the freeways: more people with more to do, in a hurry in their huge vehicles. An attempt to lower the national speed limit to 55 mph after the oil shortages in the ’70s lasted only 13 years, so now everyone is tailgating, even if we’re doing 75 in the slow lane. I learned the hard way to get over my flippant habit of flipping off these tailgaters when one tried to run me off the road in his big pick-up truck. It could have been worse. He could have had a shotgun.Watch for Pedestrians

Now this me-first impatience has spread to the surface streets. What used to be sacrosanct in California – the right-of-way of the pedestrian – has lost more asphalted ground every year. Anyone who’s been in California for awhile can remember feeling reasonably safe using a crosswalk. Cars would actually stop. Now we don’t dare put a toe out over the curb even at a green light for fear it will be ripped off, New York-style, by a car careening around the corner. Instead of looking once before stepping off the curb, I now look two or three times in all directions. I don’t assume the drivers see the little man light under the green light, or the sign, DRIVERS MUST YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. I don’t assume, even if all cars are stopped and I am halfway through the intersection, that they will remain stopped. I have been surprised more than once by cars grazing my behind or making me run so fast my hat falls off. I have seen cars bear down on women with children and old people with walkers.

What is it that is so important, I wonder, that they can’t wait an extra minute? Why have they forced us to become such defensive walkers, robbed us of our pleasant, strolling right-of way?

One embarrassing morning, I lost it completely in the middle of the street when a black Jaguar snarled toward me, leaping cat hood ornament aimed right at my midsection. I started shrieking and cursing. Under one arm, I had my yoga mat, but with my free one I gestured and gave the finger like a madwoman. People were cringing around me. I felt like a hypocrite with my yoga mat, and when I got to class, I told the teacher, an extremely serene man, what I’d just done. He laughed. “Oh, I do that,” he said. “People ask me if I’m always so calm and I tell them the only time I’m not is when I’m driving.” I laughed a little, but this did not make me feel better.

Walking back from class, I realized that we pedestrians are not safe on the sidewalk either. Drivers pulling in and out of parking lots do not see us or do not care. Most large parking lots have stop signs at their exits to the sidewalk and street. They must be invisible. The majority of drivers (I have started to count) wheel right on through them.

Drive CarefullyAt home, I can see and hear traffic from my second-story windows. At certain times of day, around the corner from two schools, it is a busy block between two intersections. Mothers stream by in silver SUVs, cell phones glued to ears, kids strapped into back seats. The parents on foot have a hard time navigating. When I first moved here five years ago, I heard honking only once or twice a week. Now it’s several times a day. Occasionally, in a very satisfying scenario, two motorcycle cops set up at opposite corners and pull over drivers one after another and the honking stops.

What is the answer? Do we have to post cops on every corner to make people slow down? Do we have to put up what are called “traffic calming” signs everywhere? Slow down, smell the roses … Somehow we have to make drivers and walkers more aware.

According to the Walk San Diego website (, we are 36 times more likely to be killed walking than driving a car; each year more than 6,000 pedestrians are killed and 90,000 are injured in the United States.

Often, as I am pondering and gazing out my kitchen window, I see families and other groups of people go by on those Segway people movers. In single file, they glide gracefully along the sidewalk. Walkers on wheels. They have on helmets and look as if they are on their way to some sort of game, but really, they are tourists seeing the sights in a different way. I try to imagine myself on one. Would I feel any safer? I doubt it. With my luck, I’d run over small dogs and sail right into a school bus. Come to think of it, I remember reading that the owner of the company that manufactures them died on one a few months ago. Less than a year after British tycoon Jim Heselden bought the Segway company from its American inventor, he was tooling around his property in Yorkshire on a people mover and drove it over a 30-foot cliff into the river below. No specific cause of the accident was ever determined, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a speeding lorry or mini.

So I guess I’ll stick to using my own legs, learning to be a calmly cautious walker. I can hope that the world and its drivers slow down long enough to read signs and spare a few lives. We may have to put up more blinking signs warning drivers they are going 60 in a school zone (as if they didn’t know!) or that right of way doesn’t always mean them. I may have to walk to more yoga classes. But I refuse to wear a helmet.

This essay was published in the La Jolla Light on January 19, 2012.


Who’s That in the Kitchen with Julia?

I just received another slew of catalogs from the home decorating and cooking stores, you know, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn. These to welcome Spring, as previous ones have fall and winter holidays, summer and Fourth of July celebrations.

Their purpose is not just to showcase individual items, from tables, lamps and rugs to coffeemakers and Cuisinarts. No, they are selling a lifestyle based on using these items in full-page, bleeding-edge color. It isn’t good enough that the coffeemaker can make 100 kinds of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, it sits on a sideboard surrounded by a sumptuous brunch, including the electric griddle for pancakes and sausages, the panini squisher for ham and cheese sandwiches, the waffle maker, the sherbert maker, the automatic melon baller and the citrus extractor. These require so much room they spread out from the breakfast nook to the dining table.

As for dinners, well they resemble a sort of modern, hip Downton Abbey without the servants. Wait! The servants are all the handy machines. We have crockpots for stew, a deep fryer for homemade dumplings and fritters, an electric wok for stir fry, a rotisserie oven for chicken, a convection oven for what I’m not sure, and a $1,000 outdoor grill for steaks, chops, fish, kebobs. And don’t forget the margarita blender, the soda machine, the turquoise or lime green mixer, and the red velvet cupcake mix and cute little baking pans.Gadgets

How many people actually entertain like this? Not many I know. Overall, dinner parties are on the decline, according to an article in the New York Times (11/29/12). People are busier, more inclined to cozy up at home or hold spontaneous potlucks when they do have free time. The few friends I have who enjoy cooking and entertaining are a rarity and receiving an invitation to their homes is something I look forward to. According to another recent NY Times article (2/12/13), many are now ordering the ingredients of meals close to ready made, so they can appear to be cooking.

In addition to the entertaining fantasies these catalogs promote, they also promote fantasies about day-to-day life. For example, the machine that allows mothers to make their own baby food. (I say mothers here because I can’t imagine any man having the patience for this.) Why? Why? Why? When in the midst of a sleep-deprived stupor, you can easily pull out a breast or a little jar of applesauce.

Again, they are trying to sell us an image that doesn’t exist in real life, perfect baby-mother bond, perfect health.

MixersJuicers and smoothie makers are also used to promote this idea of perfect health. If we squeeze 10 apples, six carrots and a beet into this machine with hungry blades and drink what the hungry blades create, we’ll look 10 years younger and live 10 years longer. Well, we’ll need those 10 years just to pull apart the machine, clean up all the peels and pulp, and reassemble the machine. And while I enjoy an occasional smoothie, I’d rather have something substantial for breakfast, like whole fruit, cereal or an egg that I can fix in half the time it takes to assemble and clean my Bella Cuchina Rocket Blender. (No, I didn’t buy it. It was a gift.)

When not in use, where do all these magical machines reside? Even the most sweeping marble-countered kitchens do no have anough room for them all. I suspect they are off in a secret room – with Dr. Oz, celebrity chefs, and the ghost of Julia Child, rattling her basic pots and pans.

Stop Talking

I saw a great business/calling card recently. It said, simply, Stop Talking.

I can’t stop thinking about it, may go back to the store and buy it. How perfect for me, and people like me, the listeners of the world who would sometimes like to speak and be heard. Or to hear nothing.

I can think of so many people I could hand it to. The boorish bore at a party. The acquaintance painfully describing her latest divorce or operation. The office mate who takes personal calls all day long. The know-it-all in meetings or classes. The clerk who gabs with everyone in line about their health, vacation or children. My neighbor in his hot tub at Midnight. Anyone gabbing nearby on a cell phone or in a theater.

Come to think of it, if I could go back in time, the school wierdo who followed me home when I was 10 because I was the only one who would listen to him.

The world is divided into talkers and listeners, just as it’s divided into neat freaks and slobs, morning larks and night owls, and those who are punctual and those who are always late (perhaps subjects of future posts). We are all put on earth to drive each other crazy.

My own listening skills have served me well as a professional writer. It’s no accident I was drawn to journalism. My curiosity about people always overcame my shyness and I’ve been able to interview anyone from cute boys in high school to famous authors and infamous mayors. And not just ask questions, but listen to the answers!

Bench by the OceanSocially, my ability to listen sometimes helps and sometimes hinders me. It helps if a friend or relative needs comfort. It enriches my life and my writing to hear conversations and nuances many miss. But it hinders if I’m surrounded by boisterous talkers who won’t let up for a minute.

I’ve gotten better at cultivating friendships with those who also listen and avoiding those who don’t. Paradoxically, I’ve developed more tolerance for humans in general, but less so one-on-one. Yet it’s still surprisng to me how little curiosity many people have about others or how unable they are to simply acknowledge a comment without changing the subject or giving unneeded advice. In other words, to Stop Talking! For just a few minutes even!

So would this card really do any good? Probably not. For us listeners, it’s a pleasant fantasy.

Pass them out on the street. People might think we are deaf mutes asking for money. No, we can hear quite well, thank you, we just want a little silence – and maybe the chance to speak. For just a few minutes even!

A p.s. about my photosgarden bench

I like to take my own photos for my blog. Sometimes the photos find me and spark an idea. Sometimes I write my essay first and have to go searching for my photos. As with these. As I sat and looked quietly out at the ocean, people on their cell phones were walking/talking behind me. If I were sitting here with a friend, I would want us both to stop talking and let the view speak.