Is It Really All Random? Headline Animator


I try to pinpoint words that when strung together, like beads in a necklace, express something with texture and richness; I hope for the occasional sparkle of a well placed gem. I frequently fail miserably. But on a good day, as with a candid photo, I unexpectedly capture a heartbeat, and it feels as if I've successfully seized fog with my hands.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Multi-Tasking Mania

Multi-tasking. Invented in the 20th century. Perfected in the next.


Go with me here. Use your imagination.

Second story windows need washing. Extension ladder, bucket, squeegee. Man of the house goes up. I stay below with cell phone in case 9-1-1 required. Next thing you know, outside of the windows clean. Hubs gets marriage preservation points.

All good.

Inside of the windows. Not too bad. Do ‘em a few times a year (don’t know why since we don’t do the outside). Windex and paper towels. Done.

One small issue.

Casement windows. Some call ‘em “butterfly” windows because the window cranks out, like a wing. Screens are inside when the windows are closed.

Screens are dirtier than the windows. Rains washes windows (kinda) but screens are protected from weather because windows are closed when it rains. From all the time the windows are open -- spider webs, bugs that stick to spider webs, little pieces of leaves, and pollen.  

Nasty. All stuck to the outside of window screens on second story windows.

First I think, I can take the screens out from inside the room, walk them to the garage, lean them up against the car, and hose them off in the driveway. Sounds like a plan.

Or, rather than drag plant and insect debris through my house to the garage, I can put them in the shower stall, in the bathroom, that’s in the bedroom with the windows where said screens reside.

I’ll shower. De-grime screens. Clean the stall. Rinse everything. Dry the screens and re-install, keeping all mess confined to limited square footage. Multi-tasking machine.

Clever. Efficient. Sheer genius.

When was the multi-tasking beast unleashed anyway? When phones lost their cords? I remember talking to a reservations agent on the phone. I hiccupped and said, excuse me. She said, “No worries. I hear toilets flush all the time. And, other things.”


When I was a widowed mom, my kiddo liked me to stay close.

“Mom, watch TV with me?”

Not big on The Simpsons. Or X-Files. But a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. 

He’d be lyin’ there, on the carpet, watching his shows and I’d be in a chair behind. Little table in on my lap. Magazines and mail to sort. Bills to pay. And nail polish. Get the chores done then paint my fingers. 

All while watching Mulder and Scully investigate aliens.

“Wasn’t that good, Mom?”

Oh yeah.
Cell phone’s part of the multi-messiness of multi-tasking.

Yammer and drive. Not even in equal parts. Evidently too boring to just operate a vehicle. Gotta do something else, too. Save up all the blather and do it in the car. 

When authorities said Don’t Drink and Drive, some folks heard, Don’t Think and Drive. Got it all mixed up.

Knew the hands-free thing was a ruse. It’s not about hands. It’s about brains. The muli-tasking monster jamming the radio frequency needed to engage gray matter.

Still, hands-free not a bad idea. Because folks would have a hand for turn signals. Which have become obsolete. You know, since evolution hasn’t caught up yet providing a third hand.

No matter.

Too late. Can’t be undone. Still have to put on make-up, adjust iPod, drink coffee, read Kindle, program GPS. No hands left for signals. Except for the hand signal, if you know what I mean. What multi-tasking has wrought, let no man override.

So there I am with the perfect set-up in the shower.
  • Four screens standing up against the tile.
  • One bottle of liquid Palmolive to clean them.
  • One bottle shampoo and conditioner.
  • Sponge and scrubbing bubbles for the shower stall.
  • Towels for the screens, towels for me.
One huge multi-tasking three-ring circus and I’m the ring leader. The Mistress of Multi-Tasking. Find my photo on Wiki.

You think it was easy? Tryin’ not to slip while dish detergent streams across the tile stall floor, and I’m sprayin’ suds off the screens, and bugs, and leaves (spiders running for cover)?

Lemme tell you, shaving my legs with all that equipment goin’ every which way? Can you do that? I’m flexible, but jeez, Louise—really?

Cat’s standing outside watching the entire scene. Probably already thinks I’m nuts for stepping into a glass cage and watering myself daily but this time he’s fascinated. Not enough to want to be another item on the checklist. But he’s not moving either.

Wanna bath, kitty?


Finally. Hair washed and conditioned. Legs shaved. Screens rinsed. Shower cleaned. Me dried. Screens dried. Shower dried. One last rinse of the floor with the hand held nozzle so no one slips as a result of my cleaning genius.

Towel wrapped around me. Towel wrapped around my hair. Don’t waste a minute. Reinstall the screens. Admire my idea. My skill. My out and out cleverness. 


Enjoying those wonderfully washed windows. And screens. Sun streaming. Gleaming. Sparkling. View unobstructed by remnants of winter weather.

Let there be no doubt. I have mastered multi-tasking. Taken it to an entirely new level.

Now I can dress and dry my hair. And tell all of the new miracle screen cleaning system.

Strange. Hair kind of sticky. Drying oddly. Hard to pull the brush through. Doesn’t quite feel right.

But then again that’s what happens when you’re a multi-tasking maniac. And you don’t rinse your hair and remove the conditioner...

The screens? They’re mighty darned nice.

The hair? Not so much.

Multi-tasking? Madness or genius? 

You make the call.

Friday, July 8, 2011

È Buono! È Italiano!

I’ve never been cool. The kind of person who couldn’t even rent a person to be cool in my place. Didn’t sit at the cool table in school. Never went to a dance or prom. Didn’t really even date.

I’d love to tell you I’m a late bloomer, or an ugly duckling who became a beautiful something, but no. Basically I am who I’ve always been. And not very cool came right along with me.

So imagine my surprise when suddenly it became absolutely cool to be Italian?

Huh? When did this happen?

It’s not just being Italian. It’s eating Italian. Wearing Italian things. Having Italian stuff. Speaking Italian. Knowing Italy.

“I spent the summer in Tuscany.”

“Have you been to Umbria? Gubbio is lovely this time of year.”

What? I mean, che cosa?

Growing up there was the occasional masochist who owned a Fiat instead of a Triumph or MG.  Fix It Again Tony. Looked great. Good thing, too. Given how often a Fiat is stationary. In your driveway. On the side of the road. In your garage. Or, Tony’s Garage.

My first husband wanted an Alfa Romeo. Which he called an Alfa Romero. Caesar’s cousin, I guess. But that’s a one-off. No one really wants an Alfa.

A lot of people knew Ferrari. Like they knew Sophia. From magazines and movies. I guess that was the beginning. Ferraris, women, and maybe Campagnolo bike parts. Take any bike and add Campi gears—bragging rights. Back in the day.

My grandfather, Pietro, went by Peter or Pete, because he was very proud to be an American, even though he compared everything to Italy. If my grandmother was saying his name, he was Pete-uh. 

Grandpa would scan hotel room phone books as he traveled the U.S., searching for his last name. Or his cousins’. Or my grandmother’s maiden name.

“Eh, look, look, some relatives here,” he’d call out in thickly accented English. A lone Paolucci or Iavarone hidden in Tulsa.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s impoverished conditions sent Italians to America in greater numbers than from any other European country. My grandfather came as a young man whose future would have been tending sheep on family land; here he was a successful businessman who sponsored the immigration of many. It’s not surprising he found Italian names in phone books. In the Bay Area he brought a lot of them.

What would Pietro, er, Pete, say now? What would he find? With Italian immigration statistically insignificant since 2000.

Italians aren't moving to the U.S. anymore. Italy is prosperous. No more inioni or icci’s coming on the boat. No Della ______ with a passaporto and resident visa hoping for a better life. Yet he’d see exotic Italian names are mainstream. It may not be people coming but it's everything else.

Shoes, hangbags, hats, garments, jewelry and sunglasses. Gucci. Versace. Dolce & Gabbana.

Sleek Italian furniture made with luxurious Italian leather.

Olive oil. So much olive oil Italians have to import additional olives from Spain to make enough oil to export to the U.S.

There’s wine. And more wine. And sparkling wine. It’s not champagne, it’s Prosecco. And glass. Fancy Italian glass from Murano. Probably wrapped in a frou-frou cloth bag made of Italian lace from Burano.

The cars, the motorcycles, and the to die for red Vespas. Sorry, is that red, or is it rosso? Don’t forget the bicycles. And even the trademarked color of the bikes, “Celeste” – so Mr. Bianchi would know his bicycles dotting the rolling hills of Italia.

Everyone knows the Italian ski team, and soccer team, and cross country team. Forza Azzurri in their Italian bright blue color.

Then there’s the cheese, no longer parmesan, but parmigiano reggiano, and grana padano, not to mention mozzarella di bufala, with it's different Italian-named sizes. Like bocconcini. There's marscarpone for the now ubiquitous dessert, tiramisu. Which everyone knows how to pronounce.

And speaking of Italian-named sizes. Want a cuppa Joe? How 'bout a vente? Or, doppioLatte or cappuccino?

It’s cool to say ciao, and prego. And arrivederci. Even the Vietnamese manicurist, the Mexican housekeeper, and the Bulgarian produce guy say, “Ciao, Signora.” So does the Philippino auto mechanic who works on my car.

But nothing would startle my nono more than a $25 plate of pasta. With Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Rachel Ray, and Giada de Laurentiis writing cookbooks, hawking Italian food on television and in their glamorous restaurants, we all eat Italian, all the time.

It’s one thing for me to be an every night Italian. I don’t know any different. To me, it’s what we eat. Even when my mom or grandma tried to make an American meatloaf it ended up like a giant meat-a-ball, in the shape of a loaf pan.

But everyone is eating Italian every night. My friend in Kentucky (who’s red-headed and not one bit Italian) is tossing pizza dough in the air one night a week and has a weekly Friday spaghetti feed. Really? 


I can throw a plate of pasta together for a couple of bucks, even cheaper if I skip the parmigiano, but step into a restaurant and all of a sudden it’s carbonaraamatriciana, and arrabiatta, Bolognese, and not a piatto for less than $20.

Gnocchi pesto. Gnocchi? When I was a kid my friends had never heard of it. We tried to explain. Potato dumplings. They shuddered. C'mon, we said, how bad could it be, it's made from potatoes. Nope, no one wanted to try it. Now they’re searching the internet for butternut squash gnocchi served with browned butter and sage. And polenta fritti, and alla griglia. People are barbecuing grits and thinking it’s high-fashion food. Mamma mia.

Gone are the days of spaghetti and meatballs, or fettucini Alfredo (with its questionable roots), replaced by dishes made with Roma tomatoes and San Marzanos imported from the motherland, grown in the volcanic soil of Naples.

All those years of being the quintessentially uncool person, thinking a flat iron might have saved my social life had it only been invented, and it turns out we only had to cook more pasta. The dish of the peasants. The primi piatti to be served before the main event. 

Only poor folks had pasta as a single course with insalata (now served after the meal at the ristorante autentico), and all over America it’s the hippest thing goin’.

What do the French say, plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose? The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is one change Pete would find stunning. He would have traversed the Atlantic and then the United States, from Acqua Viva di Cagli, to Ellis Island, to Columbus Avenue (now Corso Cristoforo Colombo) in San Francisco's North Beach, to find food of his peeps in every store, every home, every restaurant, every fridge, every bakery, every deli. Dappertutto! Don't worry, Nono, you can chase your meal with gelati, right across the street. 

And after the sticker shock had worn off I think he’d say, che mangia bene, vive bene! He who eats well, lives well. È buono! È Italiano! What he believed all along.

So, a brand new identity is born. Who knew? I’m cool. The whole darned family is cool! And we're sharing it, one bite at a time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Heathrow Connection

Heathrow. 5:20AM.

Teeming with passengers. Awaiting turbo charged chariots. Language, tradition, costume, religion, food. Passports. A diversity explosion. Worldwide destinations. Places I’ve never heard of.

Diapers and strollers, mingling with Blackberries and briefcases.  Business and pleasure early in the day.

Sitting at La Giraffe. Breakfast before a flight to Washington, D.C. to catch a flight for Boston. To grab a cab for a hotel. A day on wings and wheels.

I watch motion play in front of me as I would a movie. There are people everywhere but they don’t touch me. They don’t find me. They don’t know me. They are moving pictures.

A server comes to my table, bright smile, wide awake. Attached to her life, inside her body. Not on the way somewhere, instead she has arrived. On a mission. Asks me what I want. Oatmeal, please. Can you make a cappuccino? Certainly, she answers. Thanks me and disappears.

Booths and tables fill with people. I try to identify countries of origin. Languages and dialects spoken. A word here or there. While fresh faced servers scramble from table to table furnishing menus, offering coffee and tea, passing water, providing something. Something similar to a safe place to light, to ease burdens while waiting to board, and claim territory on crowded flights in endless skies. 

Courier with twinkling eyes returns to deliver cup and saucer. A perfect cappuccino comes my way. Foam is dense, and dreamy, and silky, and white. And drawn in the dark and light of coffee and cream is a milky white heart. Edges vague and dissolving into creamy foam. Is this an illusion?

Who spends time creating beauty in coffee? A man, or a woman? Young, or old?  Part time gig while going to school? Or, a last one, semi-retired, doing it his way for four hours a day? 

A daily grind? Or, a lark and a laugh?  Saving just a few more pounds for a journey--west?  Sending people packing with a final, single memory of good wishes drawn on a dreamy, creamy cup of coffee.

I hold the bowl in two cupped hands. Gingerly sip at the fringe, rotating the vessel as I drink, to keep the filmy apparition at the center. How much might I consume without disrupting the heart? Someone’s attentive art to an unknown waiting for a plane. Is it possible to be so careful that when I’m finished it will lie undisturbed on the bottom of the bowl so I can return to sender?

Thank you, Stranger.

Alone, before 6AM in a crowded terminal in London, awaiting my hectic, homesick day, you sent me off with a gift of your craft and your attention. You sent an anonymous love note into an anonymous world.

And you found me.

Thanks, Julie!