Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wit after the fact

It's great to get into another book by Francine Prose. I really loved 2001's Blue Angel in college, and her latest, Goldengrove, has me looking forward to subway rides and moments before sleep. One of the sweet touches of the narrator is her incarnation of the "staircase spirit," the direct translation of the French phrase, "L'esprit de l'escalier." It's those witty retorts or phrases that you think of only after you've mounted the stairs to leave the scene. But the staircase spirit in this novel is almost like a character in the teenager's brain, taunting her for NOT saying something eloquent as much as anything else. I was a little worried about getting into another story about a family coping with the death of a child, but Prose avoids the maudlin pitfalls of the premise and actually manages to make the story feel breezy and fresh. The staircase spirit is almost like the narrator's lost sister whispering worldliness into her ear.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rhyme of the moment

"I'm not a psychopath, I'm no Sylvia Plath."
(Approximate lyric from the musical Next to Normal, currently on Broadway.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tail end of The Third Mind

Halfway through a sixteen-mile bike day - my first of the season and first since the ankle sprain - I stopped off at the Guggenheim Museum to catch The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989. (It closes on Sunday.) Unifying the exhibit is a site-specific work by Ann Hamilton called Human Carriage, which was created for the Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda. A silver rail runs around the outside of the spiral walkway to carry a little car made up of two temple cymbals draped in transparent fabric. Every so often, a participant in the work sets the carriage in motion from the top of the rotunda. It slides down the rail, nudging past occasional dampers that cause the cymbals to knock into each other and chime. At the bottom of the track, the carriage knocks a glued jumble of sliced-up paperback pages into a pile that has grown as the exhibit has been open.

Another memorable piece was Dream House by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. You enter an anteroom through a series of curtains, where you have to remove your shoes and are warned that the light and sound environment you're about to enter may alter your psychological state (no joke). The carpeted room is mostly dark except for pockets of red and blue light shining against abstract wall hangings. Several banks of speakers emit drones. The volume is just barely on the bearable side of annoying. I lingered for a few minutes and noticed how the drones sounded more static when I was standing still and more wavering when I stepped around the room. I had a flashback to the time I tried sitting and walking meditation at a place on the east side, on the suggestion of my massage therapist, back the last time when I was in physical therapy.

I also was drawn to The Recitation, a 1891 painting by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, on loan from Detroit. Something about the representational depiction of two figures in an otherwise very abstract natural setting captivated me. It got me even more than the Whislters in the room. And at the very beginning of the show, there is a massive five-sided room covered in curling gold leaf, which was just stunning to look at. The title? The Death of James Lee Byars.

Along my walk - from top to bottom: the opposite direction from what they recommend, I know - I spotted the coolest pair of earrings and I had to complement the girl who was wearing them. Turns out she made them herself. They were these Alexander Calder mobile-inspired pieces. She called them a prototype, but gave me her card anyway: Tia Kramer Jewelry. I gather from her web site that she was visiting from Seattle.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mobile moods

More than four out of every five people in the U.S. have a cell phone, and some forecasts have the rate headed to 100 percent. (How long before babies start getting their own handsets in the nursery?) It's pretty amazing to think that the majority of that growth happened in two decades. I got my first one around mid-2001, if I recall correctly, not long before 9/11, when about a third of the nation's population already had one. The phone in my dorm room was really the last home landline that I had, not counting work numbers. In general, I'd rank this whole process as progress. But it's ceased being another consumer item and started being something of a necessity. That makes losing the phone or being unhappy with the model you've chosen all that much more of a hassle, and going to the local phone store more and more like a trip to the DMV, what with the sign-in-and-wait rigmarole they have now to handle the heavy volume of customers.

For the first time in probably half a dozen models, I had buyer's remorse when it came to the Samsung Glyde. Too bad I didn't do anything about it until after the initial return period had passed. Verizon Wireless, those tricky folks, have the contract cycle engineered so that you can get a new, discounted (no longer outright free) phone 22 months into your two-year agreement. So after my old model has sustained 22 months of wear-and-tear, I'm ready to head into a store as soon as possible and get something fresh out of the box. At that point, you sign off another two years of your life to the service provider, without ever letting your old contract expire. Now, I went into the store in October, following some online research, thinking that I was going to buy the LG Venus. But when I felt the fake leather back on the in-store model, I demurred and looked at other phones. I finally settled on the Glyde because of the touch screen and the full QWERTY keyboard.

If I'd bothered to research that model as well, I probably would've come across all the complaints about how the touch screen can be maddening and isn't consistently responsive. Sometimes I'll peck at it a dozen times and get no response, leading me to reboot the whole thing. M. claims she's never been able to get it to respond to her touch. Somehow I muddled along for several months, dropping the phone a few times, you know, like you do. The screen seemed to be getting worse.

When I finally lost the thing the other week in a gypsy cab, I wasn't that sad; I was kind of relieved. I'd gotten so frustrated that I considered breaking the contract and going to buy an iPhone. But then there'd be the ugly termination fee to contend with and the cost of the new phone and the new contract, etc. So I ended up just going back to Verizon and filing a claim with the insurance company that I'd decided to actually pay for this time around. $50 deductible and I had a new one within 48 hours.

So I had to shell out money, but I got a fresh piece of equipment. AND! It was loaded with new software that I guess Samsung released sometime last fall in an attempt to quell the complaints from angry users. It's not as good as the iPhone screen, but it's an improvement. Partly because they stole the idea of the iPhone's screen lock, which requires a swiping motion instead of just a key press to unlock. I also decided to buy a molded Body Glove case and a new kind of screen cover. (Another $30)

The extra $80, while annoying, was probably worth it. The phone works better and I feel like it's now better protected to put up with the daily use and abuse that comes its way thanks to my busy life.

It's still grating to have to be under these rolling contracts. I know there are some companies that offer prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans, like I had in England, but they just don't seem as trustworthy or have as extensive networks as the other big national providers. Any suggestions?