Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Breaking up

"You're going to break up with her?" my husband said in surprise.

I'm in the odd and uncomfortable position of disentangling myself from a friendship. It was probably always a friendship more enthusiastic on her side than mine, but I had a great time doing things with her. She likes museums, nice restaurants, and exploring new cities, is an energetic and resourceful traveler, and has enough money to stay at charming bed and breakfasts. Taken two or three days at a time, her tics--the little moues of displeasure if service was not sufficiently deferential, the condescending manner towards people she perceived to be of a lesser social position--were easy to overlook. She was extremely generous with gifts, but I assumed that was part of her marketing profession--the instinct to make people feel in her debt so they'd do what she wanted. It made me feel uncomfortable, but only mildly so.

So, what happened to upset this balance?

She got married to a loser. In the five years that I've known her, she'd dated a number of men, all of whom she found in some way wanting. Then, two years ago, she disappeared off the radar for a few month and reappeared, engaged to one of the biggest zeros I've ever met. Charmless, neurotic, hypochondriacal and boring (I'd once sat through at two-hour dinner with this man during which he'd never once smiled and had contributed fewer than 10 words), he nevertheless had the one characteristic missing from all her previous relationships: He worshipped her, and would do anything she wanted.

Despite her extensive efforts, their wedding was flat and charmless. Her parents and friends were clearly not impressed by him. He didn't seem to have any friends. His family seemed pleasant but oddly nervous, perhaps unable to believe that he was getting married to such an attractive woman.

I went through the wedding festivities sort of numb. Several months earlier, I'd considered telling her he didn't seem right to me, but if you tell someone that and they then go ahead and marry the person, it's rather uncomfortable.

Shortly after the wedding, she found out he'd lied to her in oh-so-many ways. Turns out he didn't have any money, any vacation property, or any retirement savings--but he did have a huge pile of debts and an abysmal credit history. He'd been employed steadily for more than a decade, so the mystery, which has never been solved, is what he spent all his earnings on.

As all this unfolded, I was the recipient of panicked phone calls, and gave her what I thought was good advice about the need to see therapists, financial planners, even private investigators. But the months have gone by, and the upshot of it is that she's decided to treat him like a helpless invalid and enlist her friends to entertain him, comfort him, help him get a new job (he hates the current one) and listen to her talk about what a sweet man he is.

Stop this train; I want to join the stampede getting off.

If this were some temporary phase--like a family illness, or a divorce--that she were going through, I like to think that I'd weather the unpleasantness and stick by her. But this is clearly a permanent way of life she has chosen. Some of her friends have already opted out, and she's becoming increasingly clingy to those of us who are left.

Of course, I've tried hinting that I'm busy with my own life, but she's not the type who takes (or even recognizes) a hint. She keeps calling on a near-daily basis and proposing get-togethers. How can I get up the courage to tell her I have no interest in helping her rehabilitate the leech she married, that he makes my skin crawl, and that she's become an incredible bore since she got into this mess? I think of all the wonderful friends I don't have time to call or get together with because I'm busy fending off her calls and worming out of her invitations, and it makes me want to scream.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Stabbed by a Label?

Some months ago, National Public Radio's Morning Edition show did a segment on the changes in clothing labels ("100% rayon--do not machine wash" etc.). A light went on for me as they described how manufacturers can, and do, save 1 or 2 cents on the manufacturing cost of each individual garment by having the sewn-in labels printed on stiff material with sharp edges instead of on soft, silky material. Listening to the show, I realized I had recently stopped ordering clothes from one of my favorite mail-order houses because I associated wearing their shirts with a literal pain in the neck. Since none of my clothes are designer garments with resale potential (!), I got out the embroidery scissors and removed the labels from t-shirts, nightgowns, blouses--anything likely to be next to my skin. New clothes get a one-month grace period (in case they might have to be returned for a manufacturing defect) and then--snip! What an improvement, plus no one is every sidling over to tuck in a label at the back of my neck.

Removing stiff tags does a lot to improve towels, too. If you think you might someday want to see the style number or color code of the towels, leave one tag attached on the bathmat or a wash cloth.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Your kitty needs his/her 15 minutes of fame

Get out the Digital Elph and start clicking so your feline can be part of the Infinite Cat Project.

"Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty..."

Too early Thursday morning

This morning I went to a 7:30 donor's breakfast for the Puget Sound Revels, held at St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill. Getting there involved a short, unpleasant look at the I-5 bridge traffic, which I ducked under via Roosevelt, reminding myself to be very, very grateful that my office is in my house.

Not being a morning person, I was pretty startled to have a chorus of folks who obviously are early risers belting out English folksongs while I nibbled on a scone. The company was good, though, and so were the bumperstickers I saw in the St. Mark's lot on my way out, including "Bush on Mars in 2004." (For more such statements, see this site.)

Such humor, from a few months back, seems so quaint. Today the upcoming election is looking less like a political contest than a grotesque encounter between a traditional politician (Kerry) and a slime-covered creature from the black lagoon. How do you even began to get a strategic grip on something as putrid as the Bush presidency? No wonder Kerry acts rather puzzled.

I confess I'm waiting for the political cartoonist (David Horsey, perhaps?) who dares portray a pileup of members of the current administration, hooded and naked, with a couple of Iraqi citizens standing grinning behind them. It would be no less revolting than hearing Rumsfeld boast to reporters about his way of dealing with the public outrage about prisoner abuse ("I've stopped reading the papers," he chortled).

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

New England Clam Chowder Recipe for the West Coast

Tonight's scheduled rant about people who spontaneously call me during the workday to pointlessly yak and yak and yak (forcing me to work into the evening to make up the lost work time their interruptions cost me) is postponed.

Instead, here's a great clam chowder recipe, which includes info from the The New England Clam Shack Cookbook and Mark Bittner's How to Cook Everything (both available on Amazon) as well as from the Shady Rest West kitchen.

New England Clam Chowder for the West Coast

3 cups of cooked, frozen, West Coast clams (little clams) from a good seafood shop
3 cups water
1/4 to 1/2 lb. bacon, finely diced
2 Tbs butter
3/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 to 3 Tbsp. flour
2 ribs celery
2 8 oz. bottles of Snow's clam juice
4 to 6 cups of diced potatoes (thin-skinned, waxy types hold up best)
1/4 tsp. finely ground thyme
2 tsp. salt
several grinds of pepper
1 cup half and half
1 cup light cream

Thaw frozen clams by heating gently in a soup pot with three cups of water and two tsp. salt. After clams thaw, let them sit in the broth.
In a large pot, sautee the diced bacon on very low heat until the fat is golden. If the bacon is fairly lean, add up to 2 Tbsp. of butter before adding the chopped onion. Then sautee onion gently until soft.
Add the flour to the bacon and onion and mix thoroughly, quickly adding the two bottles of clam juice and bringing it all back to a simmer as the flour thickens the broth. Drain off the clam broth from the clams (it will have reduced to about 2 cups) and add that as well. After the thickness is stabilized (this is not a particularly thick chowder) add the thyme, whole celery ribs, and diced potatoes and cook on low for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are just done.
Remove the celery ribs and add the clams, half and half, and cream. Add more salt, if needed, and several grinds of pepper.

At this point, you can either cook for another five minutes and serve, or you can can cool it slowly and then refrigerate. If you refrigerate, serve in the next 48 hours, adding whole milk or more half and half if the chowder seems too thick.

You can add butter just before serving, if you like. Accompany with saltines or, if you can get them, oyster crackers.

Warning label: This recipe is not kosher, it is not vegetarian, it contains carbohydrates, and it contains saturated fat.