Wednesday, July 7, 2010


When I decided to write about badasses, I thought long and hard about the people I would classify as the best of the bad. I realized, after coming up with an all too random list, that I needed clarity on what I thought made someone not just a badass, but a great one. I started by writing down qualities that I thought all great badasses should have - courage, strength, fortitude, confidence, and a whole lot of martial arts training. The problem was that all of these attributes, though admirable and certainly necessary, were not enough. Something, or some things, were missing...

During further research, I encountered a Facebook quiz titled, "Which Historical Badass Are You?" "How apropos", I thought to myself, as I logged on to my Facebook account to take the quiz. A few minutes (and several rather ridiculous questions) later, I was informed that my super secret badass historical persona is...

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni.

"Well this sucks. I was hoping for Ellen Ripley or Joan of Ark. Who the hell is Boudica, Queen of the Iceni?" I thought to myself. As it turns out, Boudica was indeed quite an historical badass, having led a violent uprising against the Roman empire in 60 AD. Unfortunately for her, she and her gaggle of followers were later slaughtered by the Roman army, after having fallen into a trap. Facebook, warns that, "like Boudica you are a strong warrior who doesn't back down from a fight. You would be wise to be careful, though; you don't want to get too cocky." (Right. Roger that.)

I mention the Facebook quiz and the subsequent revelation of my alter-ego not because I have added Boudica to my list of greatest badasses, but to illustrate one very important fact about them: they need not always win. In fact (like William Wallace of Braveheart fame), sometimes they die tragic, painful deaths at the hands of the bad guys. It is the battle, the warrior within, and not necessarily the outcome, that makes them great. That said, winning sure does help.

But I digress... Back to the great badass attributes.

After developing several drafts, adding some people and scratching many more off, I finalized my list. Although all have some of the qualities I listed initially (courage, strength and fortitude), a few have other attributes (honor, loyalty and dignity) that, when added together, sum up what it really means to be a truly great badass - essentially, the kind of person that, when all hell is breaking loose, I would choose to take with me into battle.

In no particular order:

For those living under a rock, Mr. Miyagi was one of two main characters in 1984's "The Karate Kid." A humble Japanese immigrant living in Los Angeles as a handyman, Mr. Miyagi single-handedly karate chopped half a dozen black belts who were trying to beat the living crap out of Daniel Russo, the teen aged, skinny New Jersey transplant. Mr. Miyagi goes on to become Daniel's sensei, teaching him karate (from scratch) and training him for the karate championships, where he goes head to head against Johnny Lawrence of the mega evil Kobra Kai Dojo.

So what makes Mr. Miyagi such a badass? What makes this seemingly innocuous little old man someone that I would choose to take into battle? Is it his wax on/wax off, sand the floor teaching technique? Is it his ability to do the crane kick while balancing on an upright log? Is it his refusal to back down in the face of bigger, seemingly tougher opponents? Yes, it is all of these things, but most importantly, it is the fact that he has honor and he possesses the Element of Surprise. No one sees him coming. No one suspects that this soft spoken man can open a can of karate whoop ass on half a dozen people half his age, twice his size without breaking a sweat. And he does it with simple, dignified honor. And, yes, the proud, almost undetectable smile on Mr. Miyagi's face in the last scene in the movie, when Daniel-san holds up the trophy, pumping his fist in the air yelling, "We did it Mr. Miyagi. We did it!" gets me right here (thump chest). Every time.

FACT: Jack Bauer can kill you with a butter knife.FACT: Jack Bauer doesn't miss; if he didn't hit you it's because he was shooting at another terrorist 12 miles away.FACT: Jack Bauer claims the entire world as dependants on his tax return.FACT: If Jack Bauer and MacGyver were in a room, Jack would make a bomb out of MacGyver.

Jack Bauer, the main character in the Fox series, "24," is the greatest, most dangerous, most patriotically righteous character television has ever had the guts to create. A former Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent, Jack is the guy people call on when all hell is breaking loose. He is the guy that puts life and limb on the line to defend his country, even when his own government screws him over time and time again. He is the first line of defense against all that is evil and unholy. And although supremely tough and fearless, he is not impervious to pain and suffering. In fact, Jack suffers more (emotionally and physically) than everyone else in the world combined (including the bad guy in the last season that he gutted alive to retrieve a cell phone chip that said bad guy had swallowed in a futile attempt to keep Jack from finding it. Silly rabbit...). Jack has been tortured to the brink of death by the Chinese, the Russians, the Colombians, the fundamentalist Islamics and yes, even the Americans. But he manages to come back, every time, screaming bloody murder and always with an out-of breathe please and thank you. So on top of everything else, the guy's got manners.

So for all of you out there who have never seen 24, I encourage you to put Season 1 at the top of your Netflix queue immediately, if not sooner. I guarantee you that before the end of the weekend, you'll be riding on the Jack Train, with Season 2 ordered, wearing a "Superman wears Jack Bauer pyjamas" t-shirt (just like mine).

"If Hitler were to invade Hell, I should find occasion to make a favorable reference to the Devil." - Sir Winston Churchill, upon signing a treaty with Stalin that allied Britain with Russia (which had been previously [and stupidly] allied with Hitler before getting stabbed in the back and subsequently invaded).

Winston Churchill is my pick for the most righteous historical badass of all time. He was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain after his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, was unceremoniously thrown out of power for cow tailing to the bastard Nazi's. A short, somewhat funny-looking man who appeared about as menacing as a basset hound, Churchill took on the most evil of evil men when no one else was willing or able to. Not only had Hitler already taken over half of Europe, but his evil wrath was barreling directly and ruthlessly down on the British when Churchill took the reigns. Looking dapper as hell in a cool pinstriped suit, Churchill's "I'll see you in hell, Adolf" leadership rallied the Brits and eventually got the US and Russia to join the fight. As everyone knows, the Allies eventually prevailed, Hilter got his ass handed to him, and The Third Reich ceased to exist.

Sadly, not before they took 6 million lives.

Sarah Connor, the heroine in The Terminator movies, is an obvious pick for a female bad ass. She's tough, she's determined, she's slightly nuts, and she's pissed off. But so are so many other badasses. So why Sarah?

Simply, because she's also really, really scared.

As you surely know (and if you don't, stop wasting your time reading this and go rent the movie - you've been living under a rock long enough), Sarah fights the Terminator in order to save the world from it's own future destruction. The Sarah we know in the first Terminator movie is timid, soft spoken and scared of her own shadow. The Sarah we see in T2 is tough, angry, has triceps that would make most men quiver with fear and, above all, is absolutely scared to death. But unlike the fear that makes her run in T1, her fear in T2 is her driving force. She is the badass that she is because she is scared - but she doesn't run from it - she thrives off of it. It is her fear, not her lack thereof, that brings her insatiable determination, making her tough, and dangerous, and ultimately, a hero.

Han Solo (for those who need to be hit in the head for not knowing this already) is a space smuggler with a price on his head for screwing with the wrong gangster slug (Jabba the Hut). His first appearance in Star Wars is in a bar, hustling Luke Skywalker and Obiwan for more money in return for a ride on the Millennium Falcon, his decrepit (but super fast) space ship. Han agrees to help Luke out solely for the purpose of saving his own skin, but he soon joins the Rebellion and, three movies later, helps Leia, Luke and the rest of the Jedi's bring ultimate peace to the galaxy.

So why Han? Why not Luke, a bonafide Jedi (albeit an initially whiny one) or Yoda (a kick-ass little guy who can raise a space ship out of a swamp with his pinky), or even Darth Vader (who, although admittedly a bad guy, can kill you with a mere thought)?

The thing that makes Han Solo such a badass, is that he holds his own - way more than his own - simply as an ordinary guy. He's not a Jedi. He's not a scary-looking space creature with weird powers. He's just a guy who flies a run down space ship, knows how to wield a blaster, and always, always saves his friend's ass. Han is arrogant, tough but not infallible, and undoubtedly and unfailingly loyal.

Three years ago, my friend Rachael was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Originally misdiagnosed, Rachael was about one month away from death when her condition was finally identified. I will never forget hearing the news. To say I was shocked doesn't even begin to describe it. I knew Rachael to be a beautiful, larger-than-life woman with a rapier sense of humor and a "victory is sweet" mentality. A born litigator about to embark on her career as a trial attorney, cancer crawled its ugly way into this lovely woman's body and tried to take her down.

But Rachael fought it. She shaved her head, took leave from her job, embraced (not hid from) her friends and family, endured six brutal months of chemotherapy, and, with unspeakable grace and dignity, emerged victorious and stronger than ever. What a warrior. I'll take her into battle with me any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

Rachael has returned to the practice of law, litigating and eating opposing counsel for breakfast. She has found the love of her life in her partner, Ali, and lives in a fabulous loft in San Francisco. She is tougher than she was before the cancer, her sense of humor is equally, if not sharper than it was when we first met, she'll still stop everything she is doing to help someone in need, and, most importantly, she appears to really and truly be at peace.

A few months into her treatment, Rachael said in an email to her friends:

"Life can be random and cruel and sometimes, you just have to hang on, be gracious, and find something funny in the worst of it. But I will say that I am grateful that the one lesson (?) that seems to remain, is that none of this is very serious. If you are alive, you can fix it. And it probably doesn't need fixing anyway. So stop micro managing life (OK, I guess I do think I learned things. Don't you hate people that think they know something because they almost died? Its like a six-feet-under merit badge. Please.). And I am very happy. Isn't that worth the fight? (Hoping you are very happy too)."

In less than one month, on August 2, Rachael will officially be deemed "cured." Until then, there is a 50% chance that the cancer will return. I'm putting my money on Rachael.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Back in our parents' and grandparents' days, air travel was an adventure, a distinct and exciting part of a trip itself. Today, getting from Point A to Point B, especially by airplane, is about as enjoyable as having bamboo shoots rammed down one's nails. Granted, the events of September 11th have understandably (and, at least from me, appreciatively) dictated that travel be far more about safety than enjoyment, but with a bit of decency and common sense, we can return to those long lost days. Following are my personal rules of travel:

Don't bother arguing with the ticket agent about the airline's baggage policy. Not only does it hold up the line, but it starts your day off badly. You likely have a long day ahead of you and getting bent out of shape about something you (and quite frankly, the ticket agent who doesn't make the rules) has no control over is only going to make you unpleasant to be around. In fact, if you're arguing with the ticket agent because you've gone over the 50 pound limit, or you didn't know that you have to pay $25 for your one check in bag, you've got only yourself to blame. You're either not reading/listening to enough news or you didn't plan well enough. So pay the damn fine and move along. Next in line.

Fact #1: Security lines at airports, most airports, ALL airports, are long. Yes, some are longer than others, as evidenced by my last trip, when the line downstairs was only the line to go upstairs.

And the line to go upstairs...

...was only the line to go down the hallway.

And the line to go down the hallway...

...was only the line to turn around and go back up the other side of the hallway.

And THAT line was the line to get through the security line.

So believe me. I know. I get it. They are long. And they suck. But they are a fact of modern day travel and complaining about it incessantly to the person behind or in front of you will not make it go any faster. So rule #1 for security lines is, simply... accept. It is what it is.

Fact #2: Thanks to Richard Jackass Reid (the "Shoe Bomber"), anyone wishing to get past security must remove his or her shoes (and yes, that includes flip flops). Period. There is no negotiation. Know this now because my next rule of air travel is that everyone should be ready to go through the metal detector without more than two or three seconds of pause. An easy enough rule of thumb to follow should be the following:

5 people before you reach the front of the line: Take a mental inventory of what needs to be removed from your body (shoes, belts, jackets, etc).

4 people before you reach the front of the line: Place your ID and boarding pass in your back pocket(or some other place that will remain with you while you pass through the metal detector). Some airports don't require that you to have these documents on your person when you pass through the detector, but several still do and you likely won't know if you need them or not until it's too late. And if you've left the documents in your purse or jacket pocket that is on the conveyor belt, you will have to wait until they are returned to you and then go back through the detector with them in hand. This is an unnecessary hold up of the line and one that is easily avoidable. So err on the side of caution and keep them with you unless otherwise instructed.

3 people before you reach the front of the line: Star undressing. Take off your jacket, remove your belt, untie your shoe laces. This is also a good time to assess whether or not you placed all liquids in a plastic Ziplock bag. If you have not, mentally prepare yourself to have them unceremoniously thrown out by the FTA. Again, your fault for not having planned better in advance.

2 people before you reach the front of the line: Grab as many bins as necessary to hold all your crap (I myself require a minimum of three). If you are traveling with children and have a stroller, now is the time to remove the child from said stroller and hand him or her off to your traveling co-parent while you collapse the stroller and get it ready to go through the conveyor belt. This is also a good time to remind any walking children that they need to pass through the detector by themselves and that doing so without a scene will earn them a big fat candy bar on other side of security.

And finally, 1 person before you reach the front of the line. Place all items in your bins. Empty your pockets completely. This includes coins, cell phones, plastic combs - everything. DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING TO CHANCE. And if you have a metal plate in your head, well, you're screwed.

1. The Queue: This one is very simple and one that even the most inexperienced of travellers should not need much direction on. Do not attempt to board before your row number is called. Just don't.

2. Right Foot First: My best friend Cristina and I have this loudly spoken and non negotiable rule that, upon entering an aircraft, one must ALWAYS step onto said aircraft with his or her right foot first. NOT left. Right. We don't know where the superstition came from or when we picked it up, but given that she and I have flown countless times, both together and alone, and are still around to tell about it, means it works. So do it. Every time. And if you happen to be traveling with either one of us and, in an uncool attempt to be funny, step on with your left foot (and tell us about it), prepare to either continue on with your travels alone, or be smacked upside the head, pulled roughly back off the aircraft, and made to re-enter again - right. foot. first.

(This one is tricky but vital to proper etiquette for air travel) Rule #1: . Start looking for a place to store your overhead baggage 3 rows before you get to your assigned row. This does not necessarily mean you should automatically store your luggage 3 rows ahead of your own, mind you. It simply means that you start looking 3 rows ahead, all the time craning your neck to see if there is room above you own (which, admittedly, if you're short, can be challenging). If you see nothing available ahead of you, store your bag in the bin closest to your seat. The reason, my friends, this is so important is because nothing disrupts the otherwise peaceful and civilized boarding of an aircraft more than the person that needs to make an about face and backtrack to find overhead storage space. It creates chaos and unnecessary roughness. Don't be "that guy." Be smart. Think ahead.

Rule #2: Don't hog. There is limited overhead compartment space. If you're the first to get to an overhead bin, don't lay your nice little hanging bag flat across its entire 3-foot span and NOT expect someone to either unceremoniously push your bag to one side or lay their bag on top of yours. Because if they do, the fault is entirely your own.

Rule #3: Don't take out your fellow passengers. Be CAREFUL when lifting your bag to store, and when taking it down to disembark. If I had a dollar for every time I've either been hit on the side of the face or came close to being hit on the side of the face by someone with their carry-on bag, I'd have a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe and the killer Manolo collection to match.

I have two children. I have two very active children who do not quietly entertain themselves for hours on end. I've had to buy everyone two rows in front and in back of me drinks as a token of my sincere appreciation for not opening up the door mid-flight and throwing my screaming child out the plane. I've had to apologize to the flight attendant for the urine-soaked seat that occurred because turbulence forbade me from taking my daughter to the potty. So believe me, no one is more sympathetic to the plight of parents traveling with children than me. That said, you probably expect me to go on for paragraphs on end stating numerous (bitchy) rules for travelling with children, including putting muzzles on them and threatening them with the dismemberment of their favorite Care Bear if they don't shut the hell up. but I'm not going to do that. Because I get it. I know how hard it is to travel with little ones and I am sincerely sympathetic when sitting next to a parent with a screaming child. So I am only going to offer one tidbit of advice...

Do a test run on new meds.
The first time I travelled with my eldest child, our pediatrician told us it was perfectly okay to give her Benadryl one hour before boarding to make her drowsy. He advised us, however, to do a test run before the trip, because apparently, in a small percentage of children, Bendaryl has quite the opposite effect and turns a normal child into a Satanically hyper child. I did not heed his advice and gave Vivian Benadryl one hour before our flight. And it worked beautifully. She slept damn near the whole way from San Francisco to Mexico City. So, a couple of years later, on our first family flight after my son was born, I ignored Dr. Cisco's advice yet again. And my one-year old son, Jesse screamed bloody murder for four thousand miles, clear across the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. It was the longest five hours of my life. And, by the way, the time we bought drinks for a dozen fellow passengers.

Experienced fliers are either window people or aisle people, meaning, of course, that they either prefer to sit in the window seat or the aisle seat (no one in their right mind is a middle seat person). I myself am an aisle person. I have a notoriously small bladder and, if stuck in the window seat, will quite literally stress throughout an entire flight thinking about the next time I will have to ask the two people sitting next to me to get up. So I give up having a sturdy wall to rest my head up against (the window seat) for the freedom of being able to get up whenever the hell the need arises. That is my sacrifice. And I accept the good with the bad. Because the downside of sitting in the aisle seat is having to move when people need to get up. And therein lies the compromise:

If you are sitting in the aisle seat and someone sitting next to you says "excuse me, I need to get up," please, do not shift you legs to one side or pull them up to your chest so they can squeeze by. UNBUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELT AND STAND THE HELL UP SO THEY CAN GET OUT. Do not make the person shove either breasts or ass in your face to shimmy by an already too narrow space. It's simply not necessary, and is, quite simply, rude.

This one is for flight attendants. Two years ago, when Cristina and I were flying to Honduras, I heard a flight attendant say something that, in all my years of flying, I have never heard. She said, "Ladies and gentlemen, our captain has informed us that we are going to experience some SEVERE turbulence. We ask that you all return to your seats IMMEDIATELY and make sure your seat belts are very securely fastened around you. And if you are traveling with children, we recommend that you hold on to them. Tightly."

Cristina and I have flown together dozens of times. We've had more than our share of choppy flights, rough landings and unpleasant take offs. But never, ever has a flight attendant sounded so stern or so ominous. Never have I seen a flight attendant cause so many people to turn sheet white without an iota of reassurance or calm. As the flight attendant buckled herself into her own seat, Cristina looked at me and said "oh shit" as I looked at her and said "here we go."

And we closed our eyes and waited. And waited. And waited.

Twenty long and deathly quiet minutes later, we heard the ping over the loudspeaker. The flight attendants got up and pleasantly began serving drinks without so much as a word. The plane had not bumped once. Not once. We might as well have been sitting on the tarmac.

"What the HELL was that?" I said to Cristina? She didn't answer. She was too busy ordering a double scotch on the rocks from Chicken Little in the Little Blue Suit.

There is a very crass expression in Spanish that goes "tanto pedo para cagar aguado," which basically means "all that drama for nothing." Now don't get me wrong. I am thrilled that the severe turbulence that was ominously forecast did not come to fruition and that we landed safely and without incident in Honduras. That said (and I confirmed this with a commerical pilot friend of mine) flight attendants should not use the word "severe" or tell parents to hold on to their kids for dear life unless the plane is quite literally, on it's way down.

The ordeal is almost over. You are at baggage claim, tired, perhaps a bit grumpy, and definitely wanting to get the hell out of the airport. My last two rules for traveling are:

1. Don't crowd the baggage carousel. Have family/pick-up friends stand toward the wall and leave only one person to grab the bags. There is no need to form an iron curtain around the baggage claim carousel. Nothing makes a long and trying day seem longer and more trying than having to elbow your way through a gaggle of friends or relatives, grunting "excuse me, pardon me, I'm so sorry but if I could just squeeeeeze by..." all the while watching your bag slowly pass you by.

2. For the love of God, help the elderly. Nothing incenses me more than seeing someone casually watch an elderly person struggle to lift his or her heavy bag off the carousel without offering to help. I don't care how long your day has been, how rough you flight may have been, or how exhausted you are - we help out the elderly. Period. End of story.

I once wrote that airports are one of the few places where people of all ages, creeds, races and income brackets come together with only one absolute common goal - to get in, get out, and get on with life. The stress of modern air travel coupled with the desire to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible has made flying an unnecessarily unpleasant experience. I, myself am guilty of at least half the infractions I listed in this blog. But we are nothing if we are unwilling to learn from our mistakes, those of others, and to follow the most golden of all golden rules: Do Unto Others.

Happy (and safe) flying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Tribute to a Lady

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Please press play in the box above to listen to the music I have selected to memorialize my grandmother.

Today, the world lost a great citizen; Mexico lost a Grand Dame; and I lost my grandmother, Lady Dolores Francis Hadow.

Lola (or Lolita), as she was known to her friends and Ata, as she was known to her grandchildren, was born in New York City on March 23, 1917. Her parents (both American) were living in Mexico, where her father had a mining and lumber business. Soon after she was born, my great grandparents returned to Mexico with Lolita in tow. Aside from her days in boarding school and college, Lola never lived in the United States again.

In 1939, Lola married my grandfather, Joseph Turner, in Mexico City. Two years later, my dad, Michael, was born, and eight years after that, my aunt, Gay, came along. Grandad, a Mexican national by birth, had duel citizenship with England and served in the Canadian Army during World War II. My father's first international trip was in 1944, when he and Ata flew up to New York to visit my grandfather during one of his leaves. They went on a DC-3, which was a 2-engine, 21 passenger plane that had 2 wheels under the wings and a little one under the tail. The plane cruised at about 160-170 MPH and took two full days to get from Mexico City to New York.

In 1954, Lola and Joe divorced, and a couple of years later, Lola married Michael Hadow, a British diplomat, in London. During their years together, Michael served in the Foreign Office in London, was Minister in the British Embassy in Paris, and served terms as British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Israel and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1972, Michael was knighted for his services in the Foreign Office and Lola became Lady Hadow. Michael and Lola divorced a few years later, and Lola returned to Mexico to live with her daughter, Gay (whom we call "Tia").

This was when I got to know her.

I loved my grandmother deeply. Even as a child, Ata always treated me like an adult. I don't remember her ever using the grandparental "baby voice" with me, and I certainly don't remember her ever really scolding me - (which is probably why, as a kid, I loved hanging out with her so much). I don't recall there ever being many toys for us to play with at her house, but she did keep three notebooks (one for me and each of my brothers) in a drawer next to a box of coloured pencils. On Sunday afternoons, I would sit in her living room and colour, while she and Tia visited with my parents. After I'd get bored with colouring, I'd wander around the house, looking at all the black and white photographs hanging on the walls.

No, Ata was not your typical grandmother. I thought of her more as a friend, a person I loved talking to and spending time with. I was fascinated with her life in Europe, the Middle East and South America. She was my living, breathing (and equally as beautiful) Ingrid Bergman. Despite my incessant questions and fascination with her life - the places she'd lived, the things she'd seen, the people she'd met - she rarely spoke of them unless asked. And when she did, it was with an almost passive voice - as if she could not understand what all the fuss was about.

Lolita loved animals, especially dogs, and had the most beautiful smile and exquisite hands. She loved watching PBS, especially "All Creatures Great and Small" and the Agatha Christie "Poirot" series. She had a very close circle of friends in Mexico, getting together often for "Ladies' Lunches", which were never complete without the standard glass of sherry or tequila (or both). She was always impeccably dressed and accessorised, even when she was dressed down, and her beautiful, long nails were always painted a light rose. Lolita had a beauty mark above her lip, which she accented with a sharp eyeliner - something I always thought was so glamorous, and even tried out once or twice myself (with little success).

I deeply regret that in the last few years of her life, Ata and I didn't see each other very much. Living so far away, with a full time job and two children made it very hard for us to visit, especially to a place like Mexico City. And Ata's health made it difficult for her to travel long distances. I'm grateful though, that although she never met my son, she did meet my daughter (whose original due date, ironically, was March 23rd- Ata's birthday). I spoke to her often, though in hindsight, not often enough. What I wouldn't give to hear her voice again.

Ata died peacefully in her sleep at 8:40 AM on April 15 2010, having spoken to Dad over the phone a few hours earlier, and with Tia by her side. My deepest condolences to Lola's friends for their loss of a great companion, to my children for not having had the opportunity to get to know my incredible grandmother, and especially, to Dad and Gay, for the loss of their beautiful, loving and devoted mother.

Godspeed, Ata. I love you.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Not unlike most people I know, I have my share of Guilty Pleasures. Guilty Pleasures are those things that we know we should not like, but do, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly. They generally fall into at least one of the following three categories:

1. Socially Unacceptable: Socially unacceptable guilty pleasures are things (and sometimes, people) that society has decided we should not like, much less admit to liking. Socially unacceptable guilty pleasures are openly mocked and ridiculed, but ironically, in some cases, may have at one point been socially (emphasis) acceptable, but have since fallen into the cruel and unforgiving unacceptable category.

My socially unacceptable guilty pleasure are the Bee Gees. Everyone (at least everyone who was alive in the 70's) know who these chaps are (or were, as the case may be [RIP, Andy Gibb]), and most of those people probably even liked them (or knew the words to at least one of their songs). In fact, the Bee Gees record sales have totaled more than 200 million, making them one of the best selling artists of all time.

So what happened? How did the Bee Gees go from being so far on top to being a socially unacceptable guilty pleasure? The answer , I believe, lies in the deadly combination of feathered hair, revealing shiny man-pants, impossibly hairy chests, a falsetto voice that could crack a window and, the killer of all things cool, disco.

But I love them. When their music comes on, my hips start swaying, my fingers start snapping, my head starts boppin' , and if it’s “Jive Talkin’”, I’ll pull out my air synthesizer for good measure. And for the record, most of you people secretly like The Bee Gees, too. You're just too cool to admit it.

(PS- In September 2009, Robin Gibb revealed that he and Barry Gibb would reunite and perform again. And when they do, I’ll be there.)

2. Unexplainable Attraction: Guilty pleasures, by definition, are embarrassing. Otherwise, why would we be afraid, ashamed or otherwise hesitant to admit having them? But sometimes, we can't help it. Sometimes, there is something about whatever our guilty pleasure is that inexplicably draws us to it, like a gravitational pull that we cannot fight. Movies, I find, are the easiest of guilty pleasures to classify in this category of unexplainable attraction. How often have you found yourself liking a movie but not really understanding why it is that you like it so much? Or seen a movie that you know is so silly, so ridiculous, so utterly BAD, that you would rather die than to be seen owning it, but have it secretly recorded on your TiVo so you can watch it over and over again in the privacy of your own home? My two guilty pleasure movies could not be more different. One is a cheesy 80's musical (and a sequel, at that), and the second is a 70's B-rated horror movie about nature gone wild.

Grease 2: When I was 12 years old, my friends and I used to watch Grease 2 and act and sing it out. Sandy, the cute blonde in our group, always got to be Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Stephanie, which pissed me off to no end. I always got stuck being Frenchy, the funny, loyal and loving, but definitely NOT cute, Pink Lady. I should've asserted myself and demanded to be Stephanie, but I didn't. And I'm still bitter about it.

25 years later, I still love Grease 2. I know the words and dance steps to every single song. I can recite all of Michelle Pfeiffer's lines and I still have a crush on Michael Carrington (the heartthrob). The story line is similar, of course, to that of the original Grease, but it is the girl this time who is cool, and the guy who is the dork. There are numerous great song and dance sequences (including "Reproduction" and "Let's Do It For Our Country" both of which are about (wink wink) sex) and to this day I cannot go bowling without wanting to sway my hips, do a little jig at the end of the aisle and belt out "we're gonna bo-o-owl tonight." I do not own a copy of Grease 2, but I will stop whatever I'm doing when it comes on Cinemax, and I will not rest until I find myself a gen-u-ine shiny Pink Lady jacket.

(Brief Digression) Every year, I go to a very exclusive "Bad Movie Party," hosted by my husband's best friend's parents. The guest list is extremely limited, with the same 10 or so people invited every year. The premise of the party is quite simple. Every person picks his or her entry for what he or she believe is the worst movie. The only rule is that the movie must have been shown in some sort of a theatre at some point in time. Everyone presenting a film shows up in a costume representative of their film (see right). Entrants show a five minute clip of their worst movie and discuss why they believes it is worthy of "The Andre,' (see left) which is the name of the award for the best bad movie (named appropriately for the original bad movie, My Dinner with Andre). The winning movie (which is decided on by blind vote of all participants) is glued to the bottom of the stack of prior films, and the winner gets to keep The Andre, prominently displayed of course, for the entire year. I myself have won the Best Costume Award three times, and the Best Worst Movie award only once.

I mention the Bad Movie party because my next guilty pleasure would most certainly win if it were entered. But year after year, I refuse. Although The Andre is calling my name and I long to have it back on my mantle, I cannot bear to see my movie publicly ridiculed.

Frogs: I am willing to bet that at least 99% (if not 100%) of you have never heard of Frogs. It was made in 1972 and stars Ray Milland, Sam Elliot and Joan Van Ark (of Knots Landing fame). The movie is about a family of wealthy Southerners who suffer horrible, gruesome deaths at the claws and teeth of their private island's reptilian and amphibian inhabitants (salamanders, crocs, snakes, and yes, frogs). One poor guy even gets it via tarantula, a scene so horrific that even I have to turn my head. Sounds awful, right? Arguably, yes, it does. But it is so campy and so ridiculous that it has been on my list of top 10 movies since I first saw it, 20 years ago. It's not for the squeamish, especially those who cannot handle seeing snakes and the like, and it is most certainly full of terrible acting. But it is a classic B movie and one that I proudly and unapologetically own. Oh, and yes, it is available on Netflix (so go ahead - you know you want to).

3. The Gross Outs: My daughter Vivian came home the other day begging me never to pack an avocado in her lunchbox again. Avocados, especially the way I prepare them (cut in half, pitted, and swimming in a sauce made with lime juice, Maggi (a Mexican soy sauce-ish condiment), Worcestershire, pepper and salt) are among her favorite snacks. I grew up on them and was proud to have passed the taste for them down to my children. As it turns out, liking avocados, especially the way I make them, is evidently an invitation for playground ridicule.

My daughter is a normal and well-adjusted 8 year old little girl, but all the "Eeewwww, what is that?" and "Does your mother not like you or something?" comments had simply become too much for her. She asked that I pack her "normal food, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” - stuff the other kids wouldn't make fun of. Problem is, Vivian hates peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Which leads me to Guilty Pleasure Category Number 3: The Gross Outs - quite simply, the stuff (or foods) we love, but others hate. Not unlike Vivian's avocado, my gross out guilty pleasure is straight out my childhood: Corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, crumbled Mexican cheese and chili powder. I fully recognize that it sounds vile, and as a result, I usually won't ask my host or hostess to pull out a jar of mayo at a barbecue, but I have invited many a friend to try it in the comfort of my own home. Admittedly, most politely (and sometimes, not so politely) decline, opting instead for the standard melted butter and sprinkling of salt. Believe me, it is their loss.

I'm also a huge fan of tuna noodle casserole, something that doesn't seem to me should be a guilty pleasure, but apparently is. I've done some research on this and have polled several friends. With very, very few exceptions, the general consensus is that hot tuna smothered in mayo and cheese, is quite simply, vomitous. I honestly cannot see why - after all, my mother used to make it for me when I was a child and it is was then (and now) the absolute best comfort food.

Fear not though, dear friends. While I am not ashamed to share my gross out guilty pleasures with you and invite you to try them out, I promise you I will respect the unspoken rule of formal dinner parties, and never, ever put them on the menu.

(P.S. - For the record, I counseled Vivian to tell all those kids who were making fun of her avocado to take a long walk off a short pier. So she still gets avocados in her lunchbox. And she eats them every time.

In Closing: I mean no disrespect to the writers, producers, directors and actors of The English Patient and Eyes Wide Shut. I'm sure they are good movies in their own right. But damn it, I wish more people would own up to the fact that they'd rather watch The Three Amigos or Friday the 13th, Part II. Those of you who secretly love ABBA (especially "Dancing Queen" and "Super Trouper"), I guarantee you are not alone. And to those who will drive for two hours to a carnival three counties away to anonymously buy a deep fried Twinkie, remember that most people who claim to love caviar would rather choke on a chicken bone than to admit that it makes them gag.

I hope I have inspired you to admit to your Guilty Pleasures. If only one of you is willing to stand up and shout “I LOVE AIR SUPPLY!”, or invite a friend over to sing “If I Were a Rich Man” while watching Fiddler on the Roof, then I have done my job. And if not, well, I encourage you to go make yourself one of those lychee-tinis you know you love and drown your sorrows away.

Monday, April 5, 2010


In 1995, one year after I’d moved to California, my two best friends from college, Sung and Cristina, came out to visit. I was working at Ann Taylor at the time, trying to make ends meet while looking for a “real” job. A day or two after Sung and Cristina arrived (and admittedly, after a night of drunken debauchery) I was at work waiting to be picked up for lunch. Outside the store, a car came peeling around the corner and screeching to a halt. Sung jumped out of the front seat, ran through the door and, yelled at me to get in the damn car. Quickly

I have to admit that for a fleeting second, the crazed look on his face and the idling rental car at the curb made me wonder if my two best friends had just done the unthinkable and robbed a bank. But I went with it, grabbed my bag, and got in the back seat.

“What the hell is wrong with you guys?” I asked, slightly annoyed.

And then, Sung and Cristina lost it. They cracked. They howled with laughter, unable to talk, pointing wildly in front of them. Pointing, it would seem, at a blob of brown matter that was smeared on the passenger’s side of the windshield.

“What the…? What is that? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??”

“That,” said Sung, “is shit.”

An hour earlier, Sung and Cristina had dragged themselves out of bed and headed down to their rental car, which we’d parked the night before in one of the unreserved spaces in my building’s parking lot. It was not until they got closer to the car that they noticed something peculiar hanging from the tree branches above the car. It appeared to be white paper. White toilet paper?

Hmm. That’s strange.

Then something else caught their attention. They cocked their heads to one side. They squinted their eyes and leaned forward.

They looked at the windshield;

they looked up at the tree;

they looked back at the windshield;

they looked at each other.

Yes. As God is my witness, it's true. Someone had, quite literally, defecated on the windshield of their white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

“We cannot go to LOZANO’S, Cristina,” I yelled, appalled that she'd even consider going to the car wash around the corner from my place. “Dude, I live here. I go to Lozano’s all the time. THEY KNOW ME. We can’t get the car cleaned THERE!! Sung, TELL HER!” I pleaded.

Sung howled with laughter.

“Liz, I have (emphasis) shit all over my rental car. I don’t know who or what did it and why. But that’s sick. Sick! And I am NOT going to drive around Palo Freakin’ Alto with THAT (pointing at the windshield) all over my car. YOU GOT IT?? Now tell me how to get to the nearest goddamn car wash! Sung, TELL HER!!”

Sung couldn’t talk. Tears streamed down his face...


Later that evening, long after we’d found a car wash where (Thank GOD) no one knew me, Sung, Cristina and I pondered the day's events. Who would do such a thing? What could we possibly have done to provoke such a bizarre and uncivilized attack? We dismissed the notion that the culprit had been a dog or a wild animal (last time we checked, animals don’t squeeze the Charmin), and we massaged the theory that it had been a disgruntled apartment building tenant whose parking spot we’d inadvertently taken. Unfortunately, my friends, this story does not end with a satisfactory answer. Because the truth is, we never did find the culprit. The only thing we were able to ascertain for absolute certain is that, albeit completely unintentionally, we chose the wrong guy to piss off.

P.S. - for the rest of the trip, the white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme slept peacefully on the street - vulnerable to thieves, but safe from disgusting, defecating lower life forms.

Friday, April 2, 2010


The Smell of My Childhood
My grandmother’s house is in an old colonial neighborhood in Mexico City called San Angel Inn. Carved wooden doors and wrought-iron windows look out onto cobblestone streets , and bright pink bougainvillea and ivy vines cling to the sides of virtually every stone wall. Occasionally, a street vendor will wander by carrying balloons or pushing a cart steaming with hot, buttery sweet potatoes. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Being a typical Anglo Mexican family, we had afternoon tea almost every Sunday at my grandmother’s house. And like clockwork, every Sunday afternoon, it would rain. The rain would come out of nowhere, darkening the skies and blocking out the tick tock of the grandfather clock. The sound of the torrential downpour on the cobblestones made it impossible to speak without raising your voice an octave or two. But it wasn’t the sound that I loved; it was the smell.

Rain has different smells, or feels, depending on where you are. Hawaiian rain smells sweet. Mountain rain smells musty and feels heavy. And Mexico City rain smells, well, for lack of a better description, earthy. It’s that earthy smell that reminds me more of my childhood than anything else. Despite all the places I’ve visited, despite all the places I’ve lived, rain has never smelled the same as it does in Mexico City. Last weekend, while I was sitting out in my garden, it started to rain. Perhaps it was the way the sky darkened so quickly, or the way the rain sounded as it hit the limestone patio, but for a fleeting second, I felt like I was Mexico. And then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. I was back in the San Francisco Bay Area, thousands of miles from Lolita’s house in San Angel, felling nostalgic and, yes, a little bit sad.

The Sounds of Silence
I went to boarding school and college on the east coast (Maryland and Connecticut, respectively). Having grown up in Mexico, I was not used to the snow. In fact, before my first year in boarding school, the last time I’d seen snow was when I spent Christmas in Upstate New York - when I was 5. The first major snowfall my first year away from home was, in a word, magical. The night before, as we were walking to the dining hall for dinner, my roommate Samantha commented that it smelled like snow. I remember putting my nose in the air and inhaling deeply. But all I could smell was the food Ma and Pa (the kind, elderly African American couple that ran the kitchen) were cooking. But Samantha was right; a blizzard was brewing over the Chesapeake.

The following morning, the campus was covered in a white blanket of snow. I followed Sam’s lead and bundled up in more clothes than I’d ever had on at one time. I put on my brand new pair of Eddie Bauer snow boots and headed out to class. As I walked out the front door of the dorm, a blast of frigid air hit my face and I immediately felt a shiver run down my spine. Not because I was cold (though I clearly was), but because I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. From one day to the next, the campus had been transformed. All around us, teenage girls squealed with delight, throwing snowballs at each other and whooping as they slipped down icy stairs. Gone was the typically silent and sleepy trudge to 8:00 AM class. By the time I got to the academic building, I was freezing, but giddy with anticipation for the end of the school day, when I would be free to join in on a snowball fight.

The next day, I woke up to more snow. But unlike the day before, the snow was still coming down. As I made my way across campus, I was suddenly struck with how quiet it was - unusually quiet, even for that time in the morning. It was almost as if you could, quite literally, hear a pin drop. And you could.

And so that sound, the sound of snow falling, the sound of absolute silence, engrained itself into my memory. Winters in Connecticut were harsher, longer and colder, but the sound of absolute nothing followed me. I was able to hear it every snowy morning walking from my dorm to the art building, clear on the opposite side of campus.

The Sound of the Ocean, the Smell of the Sea
A nautical mile or two west of Utila (one of the three Caribbean Bay Islands belonging to Honduras) lies a small privately owned island appropriately named Little Cay. Little Cay is no bigger than half a football field, is covered in coconut palms and surrounded by a coral reef second only in beauty to that of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Getting to Little Cay requires a couple of commercial flights, either a four-seater airplane or a catamaran ferry, and a tiny little speed boat. All in all, almost two full days of travel.

There are two docks on Little Cay – one on the windy side, one on the calm side. In the middle of the island is a modest house that, though a bit run down and in dire need of a facelift, is charming in its own way. The house runs on a generator that is usually only turned on at night. There is running water, but no hot water, so showers are typically very cold, unless you use the outdoor shower and let the tropical air keep you warm you as you wash away the sand and salt. There is no television, no telephone, and the only way to communicate with anyone off the island is by ham radio.

I went to Little Cay for the first time two years ago with my husband Jess, my best friend Cristina, and her husband, Mark. This was my first real vacation and long trip away from my children, who stayed at home under the care of their grandfather. Because of my morbid fear of orphaning our children, I asked Jess to travel to Honduras on a separate flight and even went so far as to rent a satellite phone (the kind used by the US Army) so that I could call home every day to check in on my little ones. Needless to say, my fist day on Little Cay was riddled with a mixture of anxiety and unnerving silence.

The morning after our arrival on Little Cay, I woke up as the sun was rising. Jess and Cristina were still asleep and Mark had left an hour earlier to go fishing with Barry, the island’s “innkeeper” who lived on Pigeon Cay, a couple of islands over. The first thing I did, before making a pot of coffee on the gas stove, was check the satellite phone to make sure I hadn’t missed any calls from home (I hadn’t). While the water was boiling, I looked out of the open air kitchen at the ocean waves crashing a few yards away. Seagulls were dive-bombing into the surf, more times than not emerging with breakfast in their beaks. Although the sun was barely rising, I could see how clear the water was going to be in just a few short minutes. After I poured myself a cup of ridiculously strong Honduran coffee, I went outside, grabbed a chair off the deck, and dragged it on to the sand, close to the shore. I sat down, leaned back, took a sip of my piping hot coffee, and took a deep, deep breath. And then another. And another. As long as I live, I will never forget the smell of the sea that morning. I grew up spending summers in Acapulco. I went to school on the Long Island Sound and I live a few miles from the Pacific. I am no stranger to the ocean. But I have never, ever smelled the sea as vividly as I did that morning.

That Which Takes Us Away
Our lives are filled with the sights and smells that remind us of people, places and events. Drakkar Noir reminds me of boarding school and the teddy bears sent to us by boyfriends from the Blue Ridge School in Virginia. The smell of old, stale beer reminds me of keggers in college, and snowy, winter mornings at our cabin in Bear Valley remind me of school on the East Coast. But while not all smells can be duplicated, and there may be only one place on Earth where I will see a pelican dive head first into the ocean while on my Own Private Idaho, I find it rather comforting that there are a few such sights and smells that belong only to me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I started writing this 15 years ago, when I first moved to California. It all started with a bumper sticker and an incident at the local Safeway.

“Mean People SUCK” was the bumper sticker. I saw it for the first time on a white ’87 VW Rabbit shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. I distinctly remember thinking, “well that’s a peculiar thing to say.” But a few days later, as fate would have it, I fell victim to the kind of people the ominous bumper sticker was trying to warn me about.

My roommate, Brett, and I had just signed a year-long lease on our new apartment in Mountain View. We went to the local Safeway (the equivalent of a Stop n Shop to you Easterners, or a Piggly Wiggly to you Southerners) to buy groceries for our cool new pad. For whatever reason, the store was fresh out of shopping carts. We had to hang out in the parking lot and wait for a shopper to load up her car before commandeering her cart. Once inside, we headed for the produce section and stocked up on fruits and vegetables. We then decided to divide and conquer and split what was left on the list. Because we only had one cart (and getting another was clearly not an option), we left our cart in the produce section and agreed to meet back in 10 minutes. I went left, Brett went right. 9 minutes later, I found my way back, masterfully juggling an armful of coffee cans, spices and canned goods. Brett was already there, juggling his own load, but with a peculiar, puzzled look on his face.

“Did you take the cart?” came out of his mouth at the same time as “where’s the cart?” came out of mine.


“I don’t know.”

Huh? But, we left it right here. Right HERE. Full of produce. In front of the towering pyramid of Fugi apples. Where the hell is it? We looked around thinking that surely we would find it one aisle over, or perhaps pushed over toward the wall by a shopper who needed to get by. But no. It was gone.

Vanished, without a trace. Except for one thing: the evidence.

Over by the broccoli, we spotted a bunch of produce - bagged produce, OUR produce - unceremoniously piled on top of a mountain of cucumbers.

“What the (expletive)?” said Brett.

“Who in the (expletive)?” said I.

We looked at each other, then over at our groceries, then back at each other, as if waiting for a perfectly reasonable explanation to pop up. And then it came to us. Someone had stolen our cart. And not just accidently taken it; but purposefully, calculatingly, and gallingly stolen it. Clearly unwilling to do the decent thing and wait by the door for a cart to become available like any other member of a civilized society would (or should) do, the culprit had made a conscious decision to take groceries out of a cart that was clearly still in use, and claim it as his or her own. An offense worthy of a public stoning? Of course not. An offense worthy of a verbal tongue lashing? Absolutely. But we never saw our cart again.

Half an hour later, as Brett and I were driving back to our apartment (still fuming), we stopped at a red light behind a car sporting a bumper sticker that I’d seen before - the same bumper sticker that, a few days before, hadn’t made much sense to me. That night, after all groceries had been put away and Brett and I were finally able to laugh about what had happened, I turned on my archaic Mac and began writing an article. An article that, until today, I’ve never made public. It was titled, simply, “Mean People Suck.”


I have 25 books on or under my bedside table. They are, in no particular order of literary preference (with the exception of the first three, which are, hands down, my favorite reads of all time): The Power of One; The Princess Bride; The Five People You Meet in Heaven; Dear John; The Devi Wears Prada; Tandia; Angela’s Ashes; Extreme Measures; Tsar; The Little Big Book for Moms; Blink; The World’s Great Letters; Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God Through Meditation; 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense; A Woman Alone; Raising a Daughter; Reading Rescue 1-2-3; The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; Super Freakonomics; The Elegance of the Hedgehog; The Tipping Point; The Traveler; and My Friend Leonard.

The question of the day is, if I and everyone who knows me vanished into thin air, would any one random person be able to decipher who I was, what I believed in, and what made me tick based solely on the books found on my bedside table? I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that said random person would take one look at my stash of reading material and think to him or herself: “Now there went a Renaissance Woman; a lover of literature; a lover of life, a lover of love itself! A modern day Yoda she must’ve been.”

But in all reality, the only thing the books I have piled beside and under my bed probably say about me is that I love to read. Oh, and that I’m really bad about returning loaners. They can, however, be easily classified into the following categories:

1. My Deserted Island Books: The Power of One; The Princess Bride; and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. These are the books that, if I were to be stranded on a deserted island by myself and could only have three to read over and over again for all eternity (or until a random fishing boat passed by and rescued me) I would choose to have. They are, in fact, the only books I’ll go into any detail about in this entry.

I read The Power of One for the first time in 1993 and have re-read it more times in 17 years than any other book. The title, I’m sure, has turned off many a potential fan by sounding like a self-help or religious/spiritual book. It is neither. It is a fictional novel about a boy in South Africa who grows up to a welterweight boxing champion. I could not do it justice by describing it in a few short sentences so suffice it to say that it is, quite simply, masterful. Oh, and it has the best damn ending of any book I have ever read.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman, is second on my list of favorite reads. Most people I know saw the movie and loved it (as did I), but have never read the book. Believe it or not, it’s even better. Cleverly written to sound like an abridged addition by Goldman of a book written by one S. Morgenstern (who doesn’t exist), The Princess Bride is pure, unadulterated, unpretentious and unapologetic literary entertainment at its finest. It’s about as modern day a classic as they come and I cannot wait to read it to my own kids.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is an impossibly beautiful story about an 83 year old man who dies a sudden and gory death and goes on to the Great Beyond, not to meet his Maker, but to meet the five people who had (in some cases, previously unbeknownst to him) defined his life while he was still on Earth. The book is small, literally - about 4 X 6, and not long (less than 200 pages, which would be more like 120 in a normal-sized book), and can be easily read in an afternoon. An afternoon, a day, a week, a month, would be too short, however. Because the story is so compelling, so touching and so beautifully written that when you read the last page, you’ll find yourself starting over – because you can’t stand to have it end.

2. Airport Reads: Everyone knows what these are – the books you buy in the airport store when you realize you have 5 hours on a plane with absolutely nothing to read. Half the money you spend will be on trashy gossip mags (after all, you don’t know any of these people so you could give a rat’s ass about appearances), and the other half will be on a novel or autobiography that you know nothing about and probably would never otherwise buy. As a general rule, I don’t like autobiographies and cannot STAND silly romance novels by Barbara Bradford or Danielle Steele. I do, however, dig spy and crime novels. Although I usually finish these kinds of books during my long plane rides and leave them wherever I happen to have been travelling to, I do have a couple left on my bedside table (Extreme Measures and Tsar).

3. Loaners: As some of my friends know, I’m terrible about returning books that have been loaned (read: not given) to me – and certainly never in pristine condition (I’m a compulsive and admittedly, shameful, dog-earer). The one thing I will say is that, with very few exceptions (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – a book with a title so annoying and obnoxiously long that I gave up on it out of principle after a few short pages), I will read almost anything recommended to me by a friend. If they loved it, surely it’s worth exploring. And the beauty of loaners is that oftentimes, you’ll end up reading something you may otherwise never have picked up yourself. Examples of such books that are currently on my bedside (and have not yet been returned to their rightful owners) are Angela’s Ashes; Extreme Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; The Traveler; and My Friend Leonard. A couple of others (Blink and The Tipping Point are also loaners but will be classified separately).

4. “Things That Make You Go Hmmm” books: A few months ago, while my husband and I were staying overnight at our place in San Francisco, I picked up an old copy of Freakonmics that some guest had left behind at one point or another. By the time Jess woke up a couple of hours later, I’d read half the book. And boy, was I was hooked. I couldn’t put the damn thing down. Within an hour, I’d finished it and within another couple of hours, I was on my way to Barnes & Noble to buy the sequel, Super Freakonomics. These are the books I call “The Things That Make You Go Hmmmm” books. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, The Tipping Point and Blink, three of the 25 on my bedside table, are other examples of such books (the latter two being ones that were loaned to me by a friend that will likely never be returned). These are the books that you can find yourself commenting on out loud while reading (“Fascinating!”, “I had NO idea!!”) and can always count on as conversation starters at dinner parties (“Hey, did you KNOW that, statistically speaking, most drug dealers live with their mothers??”).

5. Chick Books: I’ve already stated that I hate cheesy romance novels. Cannot stand them. The chick books that I have on my bedside table are different (with arguably one exception: Dear John). The ones I have are more "Sex in the City” type novels (The Devil Wears Prada) than they are Danielle Steele type novels, and are books about women that most men I know would never be caught dead reading (A Woman Alone). Another one I’d add to this list, but no longer have because I loaned it to someone and never got back (payback’s a bitch) is Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, it’s cliché and yes, it was a bit on the obnoxious “Woman Power” side, but I dug it nonetheless.

6. How To’s/Enlightenment: As a general rule, I don’t usually read “how to” or self help books, and when I do, I usually stop reading them half way through (which may explain a lot, if I were self-enlightened enough to admit it). I do, however, have a few that have stayed on my bedside table (The Little Big Book for Moms; Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God Through Meditation; Raising a Daughter; Reading Rescue 1-2-3; and The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands), not necessarily because I haven’t read them, but because they are important enough to keep within arm’s reach, just in case…

7. The Good Ol' Fashioned Stand By: The oldest book I have on my bedside table is The World’s Greatest Letters. It’s a first edition printing of a book published in 1940 and I found it several years ago at a garage sale. The hard back cover has faded, it has a distinctive musty smell to it, but despite its age, is unmarked and undog-eared (even the likes of this chronic dog-earer respected it enough to use a book mark). As the title suggests, the book is a collection of letters, some famous, some obscure, written by people ranging from Alexander the Great, to Lord Byron, Voltaire, and Leon Trotsky. Some of the letters are about wars and (then) current events, many are about love and undying devotion, and some are about seemingly nothing in particular. I have not read them all despite the fact that I’ve had the book next to my bed for several years. But I have read most. I keep it, not because it’s a thrilling, awesome read, but because, like The Power of One, The Princess Bride and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, it’s always there when nothing else will do.