F the LBD

The amazingly beautiful Audrey Hepburn, wearing an amazing little black dress like a boss. This was a promo shot for Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Brittany looked at her dress, benignly laying across the bed. She looked at her reflection in the mirror. She poked at her belly. Yes, it was a belly. Rhymes with jelly. It didn’t bounce back as quickly as with the first two babies. The third time was definitely not the charm. She was like the stretched out elastic on an old pair of panties. Droopy drawers.

The dress was looking much less benign. She heard the baby shifting positions in the next room. She wondered how moms ever got anything done before baby monitors. One thing about being on baby number three, she knew better than to jump at the first shifting and snuffling. It would likely stop. It did. She turned her attention back to the black dress that seemed a little more hostile.

To be honest she barely gained much more weight than the baby, yet she was still lumpy. There was a party to go to and she was committed to getting into that form hugging dress. She pulled on her “firm-control” black hose and lifted her saggy breasts into what had been a pretty bra. She decided to iron her hair and then address the dress. She’d also do her makeup. She was going to wear the very pretty, very shimmery gold shadow from the Gwen Stefani Urban Decay palette. Where was her mascara?

Ashley would be at the party, too. This was Ashley’s first baby. When Britt saw Ashley last week, Ashley looked absolutely fabulous. Her chubby cheeked infant snuggled into the stroller that Ashley jogged behind, her yoga pants hugging her jiggle-free ass. Britt had the clumsy double stroller with her own Anna on a scooter nearby. They were heading to the “make your own cornucopia” class at the arts center. She was wearing yoga pants, too, but with her husband’s oversized college hoodie covering her hips. Hips, slash, lumps.

“Almost ready?” It was her husband. He was always impatient with her when she got like this. She could almost chant his words, “You look beautiful. Don’t be hard on yourself. Look at these beautiful children. How could you be feeling like you’re anything less than amazing?”

He didn’t understand. She wasn’t worried about him. Women dress for each other, not for men. She wanted Ashley, and their friend Kelly, to look at her as a peer-mom, part of the hip supermom sorority. She wasn’t going to sink to the suburban mini-vanned, sweat-pantsed, sweet lattes with whip demographic. The hair in her pony swung clean and shiny.

All three of them had babies in the past four months. She didn’t want to be the one that didn’t quite recover. Intellectually she knew it was stupid, but in her heart, no, in her soul, she needed to look fabulous. Her four-inch Louboutins–what a great find they were last year, before she became a waddling baby vessel–were at the foot of the bed. She stepped into them. Her right foot was a little squeezed, but as she walked in front of the mirror she felt stronger and the pain vanished. Sexy shoes did that. She kicked them off.

Britt went into the bathroom. She needed to pee. This would be the last time for the night. It was time for the Spanx full body shaper. Control was definitely what she was going after. She liked to have her hose on first, it made the Spanx a little easier to get into. She wondered if she should have bought a new, bigger size. Too late for that. She adjusted the legs, moved the fabric around, pulling some of it up higher, evening out her body. She could still almost breathe. She looked in the mirror and couldn’t find a lump to poke. There was no give to her artificially compressed body.

The dress on the bed looked benign again. Britt pulled it over her head. Her stomach wasn’t really flat, but it was not obviously fat. Her back end had a bit of a perky lift. She put her heels back on and made a circle in front of the mirror, smoothing the knit fabric over her curves. She clipped on her shiny earrings, grabbed her bag and headed to the baby’s room to scoop her up and go to the party.

Yeah, this was a lot of effort for a neighborhood holiday get together, but they all did it. Didn’t they? Still, she felt that the pressure to perfectly wear that little black dress was a drag. She wondered if she’d ever move beyond this stress. Maybe when the kids get bigger. Maybe.

Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.


Shook Me All Night Long

Captain Jack Sparrow, offering, or at least toasting you, rum.

He was fit. In that way that the word is used to describe someone who is teetering on the top, but not yet quite over, the hill. Let’s call him Steve.

Steve was a common name in his elementary school. There were two other “Steves” in his fifth grade classroom and seven in all of the fifth grade. They would be called by their first name, Steve, and the initial from their last name. It would be Steve P., or Steve J. It would not be Stevie because you lost the diminutive form of your name before kindergarten–except with your aunts. It would not be Steven because people were never called by their full given name when he was in fifth grade, or even eleventh grade for that matter.

He was born at the very beginning of Gen-X, but was constantly confused with the Baby Boomers. His musical history was Stones, Zep, Rush, the Eagles and Journey to newer music like Bon Jovi and Genesis. Maybe some Men in Work and The Summer of ’69. For hipness there might have been some Elvis Costello and The Clash. Maybe not, though.

He missed out on grunge. He preferred reciting Jenny’s phone number over and over rather than the rhythmic dirge of, All in all is all we are. All in all is all we are. All in all is all we are. Some of his friends just saw their dads on weekends. He came into an uncertain job market after college but did pretty well. He married the friend of his best friend’s sister. They don’t see their old best friends anymore, except on Facebook, to mark their own children’s proms and, most recently, graduations.

It was hot at today’s graduation party but the kegs of beer were on ice and tented with a tarp to protect the brew as well as the brew drinkers. He had a rocks glass in his left hand and a fifth of an artisan whiskey held by it’s neck and trailing down his leg in his right. He was holding it there like Kanye held that bottle of Hennessy the night he interrupted Taylor Swift with “imma let you finish.”

Steve purportedly brought the fine southern bourbon as a gift for the host. The bottle, however, never left his right hand. Sometimes he’d swap his rocks glass out for a clear plastic cup filled with beer. Sometimes he would offer someone else some of the amber booze. Only to men, though. And with a story about the rarity or the exquisiteness or the origin of this particular distillery, punctuated with the adjective “smooth” or the feature “no-burn.” Sometimes the tale included all of this.

He wore the bottle swinging against his thigh like it was a medal or an honor sash. It was almost like a marker of his own substance or significance. As the bottle emptied, his swagger was incrementally augmented. He stopped offering to share his bottle and stopped pouring it into a different container before he drank it. He was pacing himself, though.

The bright sun was replaced by multi-colored party lights hung from the tent poles, tiki torches–which gave everyone a quick rush when they were lit and burned off that petroleum smell–and the light from the French doors leading back into the house.

He drifted away, just on the other side of the tents where his peers were tipping back beers and refilling wines and sharing pictures on their phones from their recent trips to Italy and Ireland and Croatia. The music was loud and carried around from the back of the house past the rows of trees to the neighbors’ acre lot. They were invited and this level of noise was so unusual and it was two hours before midnight so there wasn’t a fear of a complaint. He was down to an inch and a half of liquor at the bottom of his bottle.

It wasn’t clear which woman in the floral sundress was his wife or which clean-shaven young man in a tropical shirt was his son. Nobody was checking in with him. When the tinder was torched for the bonfire, he moved into the circle with the group of people who were now all old enough to bring their own beer to the party at someone’s parents’ house. He sat down on the almost unstable white plastic folding chair. He put the bottle on the ground between his legs and soaked in youth.

He heard the air release from a beer can and called for one. There was a cringe from within a tropical shirt. There’s his kid. The youth next to the boxes of Miller Lite made eye contact with the oldster before he tossed him a can. Underhand rather than the rocket he just hurled to his buddy on the other side of the circle. You don’t want to bean somebody’s dad. Because no matter where the guy sat in the circle, he was somebody’s dad.

Steve pulled the last of the bourbon and opened his beer. Some in the circle around the fire were laughing uproariously. Steve was earnestly tightroping between hanging with the “kids” and dispensing fatherly advice. He was a father. He really couldn’t help it. But he was more than a little drunk, too, so he didn’t realize that he didn’t really belong in this circle. The youths welcomed him, but this wasn’t his tribe.

And then, the band started with the chords from an AC/DC tune. No, Steve. Not the air guitar. Yes. The air guitar.

Steve’s son’s girlfriend turned to him and whispered, “at least he’s not trying to twerk like Liam’s mom.” It was a small consolation, but the young man was consoled. By that and by the next rocket launch of a Miller Lite.

Inconceivable! [or not]

One of the famous and favorite moments in The Princess Bride is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Watching the Yelling Shows this morning, I kept replaying Inigo’s line in my head.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I guess Inigo was wondering: Is it a misuse of language? A misunderstanding of what’s actually happening? Or, simply, wishful thinking? But ultimately the why doesn’t matter. If you don’t recognize the reality, you’re in trouble.

I was thinking about this as the guest on the show, in an ominously warning voice, said that people need to understand that Donald Trump is not a Republican, and he does not represent what the Party stands for (he said lots of other stuff, too, but that’s not germane here).

I think that this is the wrong argument.

What if people don’t care that he’s not a Republican? What if THEY are not Republicans, too? [There is a parallel argument on the Democratic side that Senator Sanders is NOT a Democrat, and my thinkings here apply to both parties.]

Earlier this week, Clay Shirky who, by the way, is a much better thinker than DocThink, wrote a tweetstorm outlining a theory of the redundancy of political parties in a networked world. He offers that parties used to be required to access media, to access donors and to access voters through organizing. He traces the arc of a scythe cutting down this syndicate starting with Ross Perot through Howard Dean and Obama for America. He posits that both parties are seeing an internal insurgency where “the people,” or at least a passionate sector of “the people,” are hijacking the party regulars.

I’m not sure that’s exactly right.* I think that we are seeing the hijacking of the parties’ infrastructure for people who may or may not be party members. It could be that the outsiders are not growing the party as much as using the party. They are disruptors.

Conventional wisdom sided against any 3rd or 4th party in the U.S. because of the infrastructure requirements to gain public office. It’s the party apparatus in each state that organizes and hosts primaries. The parties own the statewide infrastructure, the hosting of caucuses and elections, the rules, the timelines and the costs. They own donor lists and vendors who do polling and pipe and drape.

Smart outsider candidates are able to use this structure to launch their own campaigns with enough hat-tipping to the “party,” as long as they have followers. They can build their own followers

  • by addressing them DIRECTLY on social media and use this to pressure and gain earned media,
  • by raising money from them DIRECTLY online, and
  • by getting their names and emails and Facebook likes and Twitter follows to call on them DIRECTLY as well as ask them to call on each other when it’s time to GOTV.

We might be seeing a disruption on the scale of Amazon for commerce, Uber for transportation, Airbnb for lodging or Facebook for communications.

It makes me think, too, about another Clay. Clay Christensen wrote the Innovator’s Dilemma. I’m still working my brain through this but I think I’ll throw it out to see if it’s a useful model to apply. Christensen says*

  • Companies innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve and eventually produce products that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers.
  • Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because that’s what made them successful– charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market.
  • This leaves a gap at the bottom of the market for competitors to emerge and go after smaller markets with simpler products that might not be attractive to the “establishment” organization.
  • See a full and smarter version here.

So the people who were in the market, but couldn’t afford the goods are happy with a cheaper, less feature-rich version that they can have. Or maybe they don’t see themselves as customers of the Party as it is, and are open to an offering that better meets their beliefs.

But what about the Brand value of the Parties. Parties still offer a shorthand to understand where a candidate stands. I did voter studies in the 80’s. I know about party affiliation. But I also know about brands. So I’ll offer one thought. How does that brand–of establishment political parties–make people who are angry and left out feel?

The first Clay put out a stat that floored me. There are 150 million registered voters in the U.S. That would be considered a MEDIUM-sized group on Facebook. Shirky said, “All voters’ used to be a big number. Now it’s less than 10 percent of Facebook’s audience.”


in·con·ceiv·a·bleˌ inkənˈsēvəb(ə)l/adjective
     1. not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.

* Apologies for my reductionist parsing of both Clays’ arguments. I’m just trying this out, Loyal Reader. I suggest you read them both and help me hone my Thinkings.