Friday, June 24, 2005

Pop Culture

Yes, that's me - smiling for the camera, with my entourage of fans just out of view.

Eleven on Top

Another addition to the Janet Evanovich chick lit/mystery/romance/adventure series is finally available! In “Eleven on Top,” the eleventh book about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Stephanie is having second thoughts about being a bounty hunter.

“I’ve been working at bounty hunting for a while now, and I’m not the world’s best,” says Stephanie. “I barely make enough money to cover my rent each month. I’ve been stalked by crazed killers, taunted by naked fat men, firebombed, shot at, spat at, cussed at, chased by humping dogs, attacked by a flock of Canadian honkers, rolled in garbage, and my cars get destroyed at an alarming rate.”

This causes Stephanie to call it quits on bounty hunting and attempt a career change. She manages to get and lose jobs at a button factory, a dry cleaner store, and a fast food chicken restaurant all in the first third of the book. And despite her resignation, it seems the bad guys just can’t seem to stay away from her.

The story begins with Grandma Bella, the grandmother of Stephanie’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Joe Morelli, trying to “put the eye on her” for not settling down with Joe. Overhearing this, Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur pulls a gun out of her purse and threatens Bella. Bella then grabs her by the nose, and they have a “Grandma Fight” until someone finally dumps a pitcher of ice tea on them.

Oh, did I mention this was at a funeral parlor - during a viewing?

Of course, the reason why Stephanie hasn’t settled down with Morelli is because she is still torn between Morelli, the good guy cop/sex stud, and Ranger, the mysterious, slightly scary, very sexy bounty hunter:

“'Just not the marrying type?’ she asks Ranger.

‘Look at me, Babe. I’m carrying two guns and a knife. At this point in my life, I’m not exactly family material.’

‘Do you think that will change?’

Not anytime soon.’

No surprise there. Still it was a teeny, tiny bit of a downer. How scary is that?”

As if love and work weren’t problems enough for Stephanie, Stephanie attempts a life change bigger than them all - she gives up sugar.After her mother calls her a “cakeaholic” just prior to a wedding cake fight with Stephanie, her mother, and her grandmother (with the cake from a runaway bride, Stephanie’s sister) Stephanie proclaims, “If it’s got sugar on it, I’m not eating it.”

Lula, her bounty hunter helper and friend, thinks Stephanie is crazy for giving up sugar and likens it to her stress buster.

“You’re not good at that deprivation stuff,” Lula says. “You’re like a big jelly doughnut. You give it a squeeze and the jelly squishes out. You don’t let it squish out where it wants and it’s gotta find a new place to squish out. Remember when your love life was in the toilet, and you weren’t getting any? You were eating bags of candy. You’re a compensator. Some people can hold their jelly in, but not you. Your jelly gotta squish out somewhere.”

And her “somewhere” turns out to be sex overdrive - major sex overdrive.

“I always thought I couldn’t keep up with you, but maybe you’ve just been slowing me down all these years,” Stephanie says to Morelli, as he sits with his face down on the kitchen counter exhausted from another night of no sleep because Stephanie’s jelly was squishing out.

“Stephanie, I’m begging you. Eat some doughnuts,” he says back.

Oh, Stephanie! Whatever will you do with your men, your career, your doughnuts? For anyone in love with the series - like me - “Eleven on Top” is another great addition that will leave you ready for more as soon as you finish it! Until then … Caroline.

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Ten Big Ones

“Ten Big Ones” by Janet Evanovich scores BIG! One of the best series available today, “Ten Big Ones” is the tenth book in the continuing saga of Stephanie Plum, the seemingly unluckiest and yet luckiest bond enforcement agent (aka bounty hunter) of all time.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, thirty-ish Stephanie finds herself plopped in to the world of bond enforcement, despite the fact that she has an uncanny ability to get herself in to hairy situations, is notorious for having her car blown up, and is too scared (and quite frankly, too dangerous) to carry a gun.

The cast of characters in this series adds to the flamboyant and hilarious style that Evanovich captures throughout her series.

Grandma Mazur lives with Stephanie’s parents and is fascinated with open casket viewings at the local funeral home, frankly discussing her sexual attitudes, and carrying illegal and concealed guns – all between visits to the beauty parlor to share the latest gossip.

Stephanie’s mother makes the Sign of the Cross repeatedly when Stephanie gets herself in to situations that will become the gossip of the “burg,” after which a stiff drink from a bottle of alcohol hidden in the pantry usually follows. Stephanie’s Dad generally ignores everything and just eats. Her “formerly” perfect sister now lives with their parents with her two children, one of whom thinks she is a horse.

And even though Stephanie may accidentally burn down a funeral home, or have death threats issued against her, or have a bullet-riddled car, she is still expected to be at her parents’ house for Saturday dinner.

“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor shoe sale at Macy’s could get me out of Saturday dinner with my parents. Like a spawning salmon, I was expected to return to my birthplace. Unlike a salmon, I didn’t die, although sometimes I wished I could, and the migration took place weekly.”

And that is just the family.

Stephanie is torn between love interests Joe Morelli and Ranger. She is in an on again, off again relationship with Joe Morelli, the Italian cop who took her you know what on the floor of a bakery in high school and who she has had ups and downs with (no pun intended) ever since. Ranger, also a bond enforcement agent, is a sexy, mysterious Cuban who makes her melt just by his presence. Both of them tug at her until she doesn’t know what to do except buy a dozen doughnuts.

Stephanie works with Lula, a former hooker turned filing clerk who favors animal print spandex and sequins, who fancies herself a bodyguard of sorts for Stephanie, and whose eating and shopping habits are as destructive as Stephanie’s. In “Ten Big Ones,” Sally Sweet returns, a man who dresses as a woman when he sings with his band and who cuts down on his incessant cussing by snapping a rubber band on his wrist.

Then there are her FTA’s – her “Failure to Appears.” Always an interesting mix of characters and almost always caught through an unfortunate series of humorous events, they provide diversion to the calamity that is the life of Stephanie Plum.

“Ten Big Ones” is every bit as entertaining as the earlier books, and it is every bit as frustrating when the end of the book arrives and we realize have to wait for the next book to enjoy more of the tumultuous and ever-amusing world of Stephanie Plum. Until then … Caroline.

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Big House to Farm House

She’s baaack! Martha Stewart has ended her confinement at “Camp Cupcake” and is now serving an additional five months confinement at her 153-acre farmhouse, back to building and rebuilding her mega-company. This has brought a lot of media attention her way, with all sorts of musings on whether or not her stock price is over inflated or will bounce back. I could care less about her stock price; I just want her ideas to bounce back!

The scrutiny of Martha since her release has been a little over the top. Sure, it is a news story, and I want to know about her release, but I don’t need to know what she does every second of the day. “Now, she’s playing with her dogs. Now, she is petting her horses. Now, she is walking from the kitchen to the living room.” Alright-y then.

I found it rather amusing that shortly after her release when the coverage was most intense, Martha sent out hot chocolate to the reporters who were waiting in the cold. There were no marshmallows from what I hear, but for goodness sake, the woman has been in prison for five months! Chances are, she didn’t have any. She could have made some from scratch, but I’m not sure I’d go to that much effort for reporters, either - even if I were trying to change my image.

And a lot has been made of that, too - that she is trying to change her image intentionally to boost her company. I agree that there is certainly much effort on the part of her crisis management team to project her a certain way. However, I don’t believe that it is a dishonest move. I think they are just trying to show her “nice” side. She is a good businesswoman, and kudos to her for that - whatever projections need to be made about her personally are just part of the game.

I have heard it said in the media that people will have trouble seeing her as the icon she once was because her image was based on one of projecting perfection. I disagree. Her products and ideas have never been perfection; rather, they have been something better to which to aspire. I believe that people now see her as more of a human, more fallible, and I think that will actually help her image. Who can’t identify with a little imperfection thrown in to the mix?

We now have a kinder, gentler Martha. Five months is a long time. It would be impossible for a person to spend five months in prison without learning something from the experience. Spending time with, as one newscaster put it, “the kind of people who shop at K-Mart” certainly would have brought her in touch with the reality of life for most people (outside of the prison part, of course.) I don’t see how she couldn’t be a better person for it.

All the hubbub of media interest aside, I am glad that Martha will be around again to share her knowledge of everything “home.” Something was missing while she was caught up in this whole mess, and I am glad to have the excitement of looking forward to learning new things once again. No matter whether you love her or can’t understand people’s fascination with her, there is no one around with the kind of skills she has in her field. I, for one, look forward to learning all I can from her.

I believe this comeback will make her company and her image even stronger, and I predict she will be around for a long time. And that’s a good thing. Until then … Caroline.

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Martha, Martha, Martha!

Oh, Martha! Whatever are we going to do without you?

Now that Martha Stewart has been convicted, many of her followers are wondering just who we will look to for guidance. To put this politely, our Diva of Domesticity may be unavoidably and unexpectedly detained for quite some time.

I have felt the impact of her talents and because of this, it doesn’t matter to me that she now is a convicted felon, especially since she was convicted pretty much only of trying to cover her derriere. The way I see it is her taste in entertaining, food, and design is impeccable, and a few months in prison won't change that, although it certainly will give her a different perspective on “real” people - living with convicted felons isn't exactly the same as mingling over cocktails.

This does present a little bit of a crisis of conscience for me, however. When sports figures or celebrities are convicted of something major, I won't watch them - for example Mike Tyson fights. Obviously, the big glaring difference is the severity of Tyson's conviction versus essentially being convicted for lying. Why should Martha be different, though? Because for selfish reasons I don’t want to give her up – her absence would leave a huge void in Entertaining Style.

I always check out Martha's recipes - always. I may not necessarily use them exactly as she created them, but just getting inspiration from the amazing things she creates is enough. The Baklava I make every Christmas comes directly from the kitchen of Martha. Now, I guess I'll be serving a felon's Baklava. The reality of it is, though, who cares? It's still the best darn Baklava there is.

I know that all over the news, they are talking about how her stock prices are going down and that there is a lot of concern about the company, but I don't see how the company cannot rebound. Martha Stewart has become a part of our culture.

When people throw parties, they think Martha. When people need to make a special dish, they think Martha. When people need decorating advice, they think Martha. Martha really is the Domestic Diva of our time, and, quite frankly, I think she has more of an impact on our domestic side than anyone else in that field - ever.

I guess my thoughts on her actual crime were put in to perspective when I placed myself in to her shoes. If I found I was about to lose a lot of money and I was told a way not to lose it, how could I not act? Realistically, if someone told you that you were about to lose money, but you could avoid it, wouldn't you do what you could? Wouldn't it be nearly impossible NOT to do something?

It is illegal, of course, but I think many of us would be hard pressed to just sit and watch our money disappear. Ironically, her conviction was not for the sale of the stock, just for lying about it. I think self-preservation could easily kick in when in this situation, and anyone's thought, from a three-year-old up to an adult, would be, "Is there a way I can get out of trouble?" None of this makes it right, but I can see how easy it would be to fall in to the trap.

Her attorneys are now pursuing an irreparable harm clause argument in an effort to avoid jail time for Martha. Apparently, there is some kind of law that if a person's jail time would lead to the irreparable harm of many others, then the judge can sentence her outside of the guidelines. The attorneys are thinking of showing that her employees would suffer irreparable harm by losing their jobs.

Employees? Sure, but what about the rest of us? She and her products have affected millions of us. The void that would be left without her image and her brand would be staggering.

Essentially, yes, she did something wrong, and she will have to pay the price for it. But, I will never question her ability to maintain America's sense of Entertaining Style - because in this category, she is the woman!

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Farewell, Friends

I can’t believe the ride is finally over - it seems like Friends has always been there for us. Ten years ago, when the journey began, I was just a freshman in college - young, excited about life and its possibilities, in to love and friends, just like the six people who would become the “friends” of so many.

Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Joey, Chandler and Ross became like our real friends, and they were all, in a way, like us. (Of course, they all had perfect hair and impeccable style. I remember when every girl on my campus had to have the Rachel haircut - and they all did, or at least it seemed that way.)

Even though they looked perfect, we all got to know the imperfect characters they were, and I think most people identified with them because of that. And, especially important to my age group is that we were able to watch a group of people dealing with issues we would soon face and finding a way to laugh about them and laugh at themselves.

What young woman would feel bad about still being single after seeing Monica, Phoebe and Rachel eating popcorn and drinking beer in their not-so wedding gowns? And who could have thought of a better idea than to have a “back up” guy or gal to marry? I think all the scenarios gave many people hope that it was okay if they weren’t completely together yet. If the Friends were still working it out, then it was okay for everyone else to still be working it out.

Maybe we’re all a little dorky like Ross, a little neurotic like Monica, a little na├»ve like Joey, a little sarcastic like Chandler, a little crazy like Phoebe, and a little princess-y like Rachel. But, they showed us that that’s all right.

What was interesting about Friends, though, is it reached well beyond my age group. Mothers and fathers of my friends were watching; their younger brothers and sisters were watching. It became a phenomenon. Remember when the biggest question on everyone’s minds was what would Ross and Rachel name their baby?

Here are some of my favorite memories:

Remember “The One With … ?”

The prom video. Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat. “I like big butts, and I cannot lie.” The “I Hate Rachel” Fan Club. Joey as Al Pacino’s naked body double. Ugly Naked Guy. The dual recliners. Ross’s spray-on tan. Joey’s fashion accessory (ahem … purse.)

Ross and Rachel getting together. Ross and Rachel breaking up. Ross and Rachel getting together again. Ross and Rachel breaking up again. (I could go on …)

It is definitely the end of an era, and a good era at that. The Friends have all grown up and are moving on with their lives. They are starting families and finding happiness. There is something reassuring about that. And since reruns will be airing probably until my grandchildren are my age now, maybe we’re really not losing our Friends after all. Until then … Caroline.

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Justice Interrupted

As a society, I think we accept an occasional miscarriage of justice in the belief that overall our system is a fair one. While representation can be as imperfect and full of flaws as we are, juries for the most part seem to get it right, and I think most view jury results as a legitimate answer to the truth of charges.

What is unfortunate is when the jury is not given a chance to determine whether a serious charge is true, as in the case of the woman who recently dropped her sexual assault charge against professional basketball player Kobe Bryant. In this case, I believe it was the system itself that drove her away from seeking criminal justice.

It was shocking when the court made one mistake that revealed her identity on the Internet, but as mistakes do happen, it was simply an unfortunate event at that point. But, for the court to reveal her identity on the Internet yet again and then mistakenly to send private transcripts of her sexual history to the media constituted inexcusable violations.

Whether or not you believe this young woman’s allegations, the court so completely mishandled her case that it is beyond ridiculous. If I were in her place, I would seriously consider legal action against the court itself if it were possible. They consistently and repeatedly violated her rights in the most appalling of ways.

Do I understand why she dropped the charges? Absolutely. That woman was raked through the coals in the media because only the defense’s claims were public, and what the media wasn’t doing that would cause her emotional distress, the court was doing in their stead.

I do not blame her for dropping the case. I blame the court for allowing the situation to get so out of control that she felt she could not even trust the one fixture that was supposed to be trustworthy and protective of her.

Now the allegations will be left to a civil court, but my guess is that the two sides will reach a settlement before it ever reaches a civil jury. No matter what the outcome of the civil case, because there was never a criminal trial, both the young woman and Bryant always will be dogged by those who question them.

And questions are aplenty - all of the facts never will be known. A criminal court jury needed to have the chance to pass a judgment so that this could be concluded in such a way that all parties can move forward and also so that the highly divided public is not working off of bits and pieces of information in determining its opinions.

Beyond the ramifications of the court’s mistakes in this case, I fear the further ramifications this case will have on other victims. How many women do you think saw this unfolding situation and decided they would not pursue their own charges? If one woman was raped and made that decision, it is too many, and the reality is that likely many, many more than one made that decision.

The whole situation really just makes me very angry, and I am wondering why I am not hearing more in the media from victims’ rights groups. I recognize that this was an extreme case in the amount of media coverage it received, but the type of mistakes that completely trample on victims’ rights should never be acceptable. That court should be chastised for their unprofessional and inappropriate actions. Until then … Caroline.

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Are You a Commercial Junkie?

We see thousands of advertisements each day, but how many of those do we actually remember? Try your hand at this quiz and see if you are a commercial junkie. The answers are at the end of the column.

1. What singing and dancing fruit “heard it through the grapevine?”

2. Which fast food chain asked, “Where’s the beef?”

3. This “Official Party Animal” was all the rage long before the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

4. “He likes it! He really likes it!”

5. “I’d like to teach the world to sing” and Max Headroom promoted this product.

6. “Can you hear me now?”

7. “Pizza, Pizza!”

8. A businessman asks, “Does this suit make my butt look big?”

9. “My bologna has a first name.”

10. A gecko doing the “robot” advertises what service?

11. Mr. Turtle and Mr. Owl are asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a …?”

12. One word - Spongemonkeys.

13. “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”

14. “Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz, Oh what a relief it is!”

15. “I am stuck on --- because --- stuck on me.”

16. “You sunk my ---.”

17. “Clap on, Clap off!”

18. “Momma’s got the magic of ---.”

19. “Berry, berry, blueberry; banana, banana, blueberry …”

20. “Double your pleasure, double your fun.”

21. “Pardon me, but do you have any ---?”

22. “New York City?”

23. “It does taste like butter” and “Butter.”

24. “I'll have a double double cheese cheese burger burger please please!”

25. “Take a bite out of crime.”

26. “It will hurt if I swallow. It will hurt if I swallow.”

27. “What would you do for a ---?”

28. “The San Francisco treat!”

Answers: 1. California Raisins. 2. Wendy’s. 3. Spuds MacKenzie for Bud Light. 4. Life Cereal. 5. Coca-Cola. 6. Verizon Wireless. 7. Little Caesar’s. 8. Special K. 9. Oscar Meyer. 10. Geico Insurance. 11. Tootsie Roll Pops. 12. Quizno’s Subs. 13. Almond Joy and Mounds. 14. Alka-Seltzer. 15. Band-Aids. 16. Battleship. 17. The Clapper. 18. Clorox. 19. Crest. 20. Doublemint Gum. 21. Grey Poupon. 22. Pace Picante Sauce. 23. Parkay. 24. McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger. 25. McGruff the Crime Dog. 26. Chloraseptic. 27. Klondike Bar. 28. Rice-a-Roni.

Until then … Caroline.

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Favorite Movie Lines

This week I thought it would be fun to have a quiz on some of the most memorable and favorite movie quotes. Do you know which movie belongs to each quote? There were so very many to choose from that I kept the movie choices fairly recent, meaning there are no movies older than me.

This quiz was a blast to make; I hope you have as much fun remembering all these movies as I did! The answers are at the end of the column.

1. “I want the fairy tale.”

2. “What we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”

3. “There's no crying in baseball!”

4. “Wax on, wax off.”

5. “Women and men can never be friends ... the sex always gets in the way.”

6. “I see dead people.”

7. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

8. “Can I borrow your underpants for ten minutes?”
9. “It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.”

10. “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so bad!”

11. “By the way, we had that water brought in especially for you folks. Came from a well in Hinkley.”

12. “The truth! You want the truth? You can't HANDLE the truth!”

13. “I'm having a friend for dinner.”

14. “They're heeeere!”

15. “You ... complete me.” “Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at ‘hello.’”

16. “The fact that you're not answering leads me to believe that (a) You're not home, (b) You're home but you don't want to talk to me, or (c) You're home, desperately want to talk to me, but you're trapped under something heavy. If it's either (a) or (c), please give me a call.”

17. “Dude, where's my car?” (This is a tough one.)

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

19. “You're the worst kind ... You are high maintenance, but you think you are low-maintenance.”

20. “You know what the real tragedy of this day is? I'm not even supposed to be here today!”

21. “Would you like a nice chocolate covered pretzel? They're kinda melty, but damn they're good.”

22. “I mean, he went from totally geek to totally chic.”

23. “What’s your damage?” and “Before you met me you were nothing. You were a Brownie. You were a Girl Scout Cookie.”

24. “Do you do everything your parents tell you to?” (pause) “Oh, God, you do!”

25. “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

26. “Are you telling me that my mom has got the hots for me?”

27. “I'll have what she's having.”

28. “It's not a tumah!”

Answers: 1. Pretty Woman. 2. The Breakfast Club 3. A League of Their Own. 4. The Karate Kid. 5. When Harry Met Sally. 6. The Sixth Sense. 7. The Princess Bride. 8. Sixteen Candles. 9. Office Space. 10. You’ve Got Mail. 11. Erin Brockovich. 12. A Few Good Men. 13. Silence of the Lambs. 14. Poltergeist. 15. Jerry Maguire. 16. When Harry Met Sally. 17. Dude, Where's My Car? 18. The Princess Bride. 19. When Harry Met Sally. 20. Clerks. 21. Mallrats. 22. Can't Buy Me Love. 23. Heathers. 24. Girls Just Want to Have Fun. 25. Airplane. 26. Back to the Future. 27. When Harry Met Sally. 28. Kindergarten Cop.

I’ll see you at the video store! Until then … Caroline.

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