Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Quad Challenge

Tuesday was the day of the Quad Challenge. It was overcast and cool at 9:35 am at the start and solid rain by the 5 pm end. For those of you who may not remember, the Quad Challenge is the annual finale of Tuesday Movie Day with the twist that you must view 4 movies in one day on one ticket. Last year was exciting, eluding the many friendly employees of the AMC Theater, who had apparently just completed customer service training and made a point of greeting you as you exited the movie or passed them in the hallway. No such pressure this year. A few random employees appeared after each film to clean the theatres, but  I had the distinct feeling that I was not the only one of the patrons who had settled in for a day at the movies. Benches outside the theaters invite you to sit down, check your smartphone and plan your next move right out in the open. Was I the only furtive one, sneaking into bathrooms and plotting my next move from the privacy of a bathroom stall?

My grand plan fell apart right after the 9:35 Arthur Christmas. Although I had doublechecked the newspaper that morning, my 11:00 pick --Young Adult-- was nowhere to be found. My iPhone wasn't connecting, so I just had to improvise. I picked War Horse as the second flick and enjoyed it. I haven't seen the play, but the movie is a sentimentalized account of an extraordinary horse named Joey, raised on a farm by an English boy and sold by the father to the army for WW1 service when the family runs into financial hardship. The story traces Joey's adventures and owners from a British officer to a young French girl to an empathetic German private in charge of the horses. The movie is based on a children's book and maintains that point of view. Joey is highly anthropomorphized, feeling emotions, sacrificing for a fellow horse and nobly suffering and triumphing. It still has an emotional punch and emphasizes the humanity of soldiers as pawns of war. Spielberg reportedly filmed the movie to evoke the great old westerns of John Ford and a Hollywood era of old. The red sky over the homestead in the final scene did remind me of the end of Gone with the Wind.

Next choices were limited, so yes, I actually stepped into the theater for Mission Impossible III. I haven't seen an action film in a long time, so I had very low expectations and ended up liking it. The plot has huge gaping holes, and enough car chases, explosions and mayhem to hold me over for all of 2012, but the bits of humor were entertaining and the gadgets were interesting. What hooked me in the beginning was a Russian prisoner named Bogdan (my cousin's name) so I had to stick it out to see how he would fare. The tech guy was funny; newcomer Paula Patton was hot, and Jeremy Renner (the Hurt Locker) was fine as the last team member, led by Tom Cruise, flexing his carved pecs,  freeclimbing 100 story glass buildings in Dubai and similar crazy stunts. I thought it a little odd that the initial scenario is US vs Russia again, seemed a little Cold War-ish, but then we get the Dubai and India connections. Don't know if I'll be lining up for MI4, but the ending dropped a few lines to set up the sequel.

Now comes the sad part of the day. 5pm and the next movie is not until 6pm (We Bought a Zoo--family fare). I added another rule to the Quad Challenge--all lapses must be less than one hour and called it a night. The movies couldn't match up with last year's Oscar nominees: Black Swan, The King's speech and True Grit. This year's picks did have a theme: Believe! Believe in Santa, believe in a horse or believe you can do it. Aah, my motto for next year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

eBay: the agony and the ecstasy

I had no idea how addicting eBay can become. I posted my first item for a 3 day auction, thinking I could cash in with the last minute Christmas shoppers. The trouble with eBay is you put your item out there in the eBay universe, but you don't get automatic bid notifications to your email, so you slavishly check your account every few hours.  After you get one bid, you now feel you must check more often--every hour, every half hour?

Here's my chronology:

Friday 11pm - listed item after much debate about starting price $350 and reserve price $400 (minimum I would accept that is not visible to bidders)

Saturday 8am - listing not showing in search yet. eBay had said it might take a while, but, hey, this is only a 3 day auction. I'm losing valuable customers! Panicking...

Saturday noon-- up and running. Picture of item looks good. No bids.

Saturday 3PM--just noticed I had 2 messages--oops, one from Friday. Pepe and Jac each want to know if I'll end the auction early if they guarantee $430. I didn't know I could do that. Call eBay to find out and get a complicated set of instructions where I have to cancel this listing and re-post another with a Buy It  Now price. But if i do that and they don't respond, then I'm stuck with the higher price.  I re-read the messages.--both reflect either careless typing or not-English speakers. Hmm...and why are they so anxious to end it?  Can't we just play by the rules, people, it's only 3 days. they can tell I'm a newby (0) next to my name for completed transactions. Am I being played?

Saturday 3:30  I check out the other listings and actually write down the name codes for the 20 people bidding, cross check with all the listings. u...r is a player- 4 bids; p..a with 3. But I don't see P...e for Pepe. hmm?

Saturday 5:30 FIRST BID at starting price. Hooray! Message appears under product description :Reserve not met." What's the effect here?  Would it have been better to list a lower minimum? Worry, worry.

Saturday 9:47 pm 2 more bids so we're up to $380.

Sunday AM -- no new bids. trip into NYC to see Rockefeller Center tree and Met museum. Nice day, but I'm anxious to return to my auction. Crazy, I know.

Sunday 3pm - 3 other auctions ending over the next few hours; a friend who's an eBay whiz explains how i can check the final sale amounts: 
Am i getting greedy now? I just want to get rid of this item!

Sunday 3:41pm $395 bid from Pepe but still below my minimum. Flurry of messages from Pepe, but I'm holding firm. Watch a round of Texas hold 'em on TV for inspiration. No Pepe, I am not "all in" yet! What ever happened to Jac?--no more messages; she faded away.

Sunday 11 pm Final message from Pepe: "I respect your position. Good luck, my friend." Now I feel like it's a High Noon standoff.  "I've got to, that's the whole thing." I reply, Gary Cooper-like. 
That night I toss and turn wondering if I should lower my reserve price. I want this sale to go through and unless the miminum is met, there is no sale.

Monday 8 am. (you'll notice I'm getting up a lot earlier now--no sleeping in until 9:30--the excitement of the hunt!) 
At last! New bidder Panama comes through with a $400 bid. Whew! someone is going home with this baby, even if it's not Pepe.

Monday 8:30 I check the other sellers--exact same item and they've got bids of $450? What?!
My pageviews are up--50 people have read the ad or does that include the 33 times I've checked on it myself?  Hard to tell.

Monday 10 am - must get dressed, wrap presents, go grocery shopping.  I bet there's an eBay mobile app--There has to be!  Resist temptation. One last check and then wonder briefly about approaching the 12 hour deadline. Seems to be a watershed in eBay world. Lots of rules for before 12 hours and after 12 hours, but I'm confident I have my $400. To the A&P!

Monday 2:40 pm Woo, baby. the bids starting coming in...$420,450,460,470,480, and finally at 10:00 pm- top bidder--  $485! "Gary, this is so much fun!" I yell into the family room.

Monday 11:00pm Uh-oh. trouble on the horizon. Just out of curiosity, I checked the top bidder's address on Google maps and then the USPS--does not exist. Then an email message from him: would I consider sending the blackberry to West Africa because it was a gift to his cousin. He'd do it himself but he was currently in Belize. (both missionaries-praise the Lord). The dreaded Nigerian scam. I called eBay and they advised me to cancel the sale. Knew it was bad when the bidder ended his first message with God Bless.

Monday 11:30 pm So...back to scratch? Not quite. There's an option in eBay where you can then send a Second Chance Offer to your highest bidders to consider. But it's painstaking--you send it one at a time and give the buyer 24 hours to decide.  Back to checking every half hour!

Tuesday 9:00am eBay had said I should send the 2nd chances one at a time, but now I'm getting sick of this. Found out I can just blast it to everyone (but not Pepe -- for now. Not sure I want to give him the satisfaction that he won after all)  

Tuesday 9:15 am An M10 Security message from eBay---sounds like Judi Dench in James Bond. Or was she just M? Someone I messaged with had hacked into an account--but I can't tell which one. Presumably it was David the Missionary, but what about Pepe? Did he hack a legit user,too? This place is way too corrupt for me! Gee, it's like real life. As I always told my kids, if it looks too good, it's a scam!

Tuesday 6 pm No offers. I don't understand this. I double checked the other auctions and Johnny and Alexis were still bidding yesterday. They should jump at my offer! This is not so fun any more. I guess my addiction was short-lived after all. A careless fling. 

Tuesday 7pm A new Security message from eBay--upgraded to an M67. Yes, David the missionary is confirmed as a bad guy and eBay then deleted all my listing information and 2nd chances. I'm setting a record for calling eBay customer service. Third time is a charm? Very helpful guy answers my questions, although we have to repeat many things, starting with the spelling of my name. "F as in Fwank," he says."No, I reply patiently, "Eth as in tham--I mean, S as in Sam." Got to hand it to eBay for being an equal  opportunity employer. Speech impediment? No problem--we'll put you on the phone!  As it turned out, I had no recourse but to re-list, but now it seemed a drag.  I'd gotten no replies to my reduced offers on the 2nd chance, so I lowballed this listing. Sigh... I just want to get some money before eBay sends me another message--maybe it would be an M80 at this point.

Tuesday 9:02 pm  Annoyingly had to eat dinner and go pick up the car--Gary just doesn't understand the commitment of an eBay-er! Listed the new offering.

Tuesday 9:04 pm Saeed went for the Buy it now price, so I could dispense with the auction. 2 minute response, so I guess I really did low ball it.  

Tuesday 9:13pm Message from "wetrustinGod" -- do you have any more of these?!!  Definitely underpriced it, but what is with these guys invoking the Almighty? The God-guarantee is stronger than the eBay or PayPal buyer/seller protection.

Wedneday 9:00 am  Package is gone, money in the bank. Hooray! Don't know how soon I'll be venturing back into eBay country...

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Only 8 days until Christmas and this weekend is the last big push by shopping malls to bring in the crowds. Gary is among the rabble, heading out at 7:30 this morning to start his shopping. (I wonder if I'll see him today?)

More importantly, it is just 10 days until the Quad Challenge--4 movies in one day on one ticket! Can I do it this year? Last year I quit after three, but I'm feeling the magic and I believe it's going to happen. For one thing the movie selection looks great. Opening on Christmas Day: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (about a boy who loses his father on 9/11, based on the Jonathan Safran Foer book; War Horse, directed by Stephen Spielberg, now a Broadway play; and Iron Lady with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Already playing that look interesting: Carnage, for those of who missed the play God of Carnage; Hugo, directed by Martin Scorcese about a boy who lives in the Paris train station. If I had to fill in, I might go to the latest Twilight movie. I already saw The Descendants with George Clooney, which was excellent, but may have been a tactical error on my part, considering it will still be playing. I'll have to check the rule book, but I don't think repeats are allowed.

So, lots of good things to look forward to, even after a wonderful Christmas with all three kids coming home. Yippee!  All my best to all of you.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Masquerading as a New Yorker

Don't worry, I know we're past Halloween and in the midst of the Holidays, but on my recent visits to the city, I've been masquerading as a New Yorker, trying to shed my boring, suburban middle-aged self. I went in last week for a reception/cocktail hour for an organization I work with and I got all spiffed up in metropolitan black. Tossed aside my ever ready New Balance cross trainers and wished I could don some 4 inch heeled black boots, but settled for my black suede slip ons. (Ok- Aerosoles--definitely screamed comfort over class.)

The previous week I had opted for a NJ transit bus over the train and that was a huge mistake. I could have driven to Montreal by the time I got to the city, so this time I was confident in my itinerary. I happened to be visiting the city the same evening that President Obama was in town for some fundraisers, but I thought I had outmaneuvered the mid town traffic by taking the train to Hoboken instead of Penn Station.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Path train in Hoboken, only to hear the announcement that the Path line to 33rd street was temporarily closed and I'd have to take the train to World Trade Center. Slight grumblings from the crowd. Some people do blame the President for everything, as in:   "Raining today--damn Obama!"; "Tree fell in my yard."--damn that Obama. "Got a ticket for speeding" --damn you know who. In this case, though, as we poured into the waiting WTC train, I was shocked to find myself muttering under my breath--"Damn Obama," but quickly followed by "Maybe I'll see him!"  That didn't exactly make sense, since the train was now whisking us away from the areas he was visiting.

Here's where my cool New York matron outfit (is she from the Upper East Side?) failed me. I panicked and grabbed the guy next to me by the lapels, "What do I do when I get to WTC?" He was helpful, smiled, removed my hands from his jacket, brushed off some imaginary lint and explained I could take the A,C or E back uptown. I thought for a moment he might be someone famous--shaved head, oversized black rimmed glasses, jeans and red PF flyers. Was this a masquerade on his part?  He did bear a slight resemblance to Justin Timberlake or ...someone. Maybe he was doing a little research for his next role?

I composed myself, sat down and took out my cell phone like everyone else, but of course, no connectivity in the subterranean world.--at least on my iPhone. So, what were all these other people doing--scrolling up and down to read emails, playing games, faking it? I tried in vain to get to to figure out where I was going next, but had to discreetly nudge my cardboard book mark, embossed with a map of the NY transit system, out of my handbag. Vision being what it is, I then deftly hid the bookmark in front of my iPhone and moved it within 2 inches of my eyes. Nicely done, I thought, as I quickly surmised that I needed to walk over to the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge subway stop and take the 6 train. I shoved everything back in my bag and realized that no one seemed to notice or care what I was doing. Ah, that New York thing. So now I'm sitting people-watching which is not a cool NY subway thing to do, so I quickly close my eyes and rock out, if I accidentally make eye contact with anyone. But I don't have the earbuds in--damn!

Rush hour now at the World Trade Center station and yes, my mouth gapes a little, taking in the scene of that 2 story high escalator jammed with people in both directions. Once out on the street I head uptown first before cutting over to the east. I walk purposefully enough to fool an out of towner who asks me for directions to the subway. I look at her pitifully and decide not to tell her she missed the easy access from the Path station, but instead re-direct her to the Church St station. (I think).  I pictured her later still circling those busy blocks, becoming more desperate when no subway entrance appeared. I just hope she didn't ask the same cop I did because he seemed to respond in not-English. I thought fluency in English would be an NYPD requirement?

At last I saw the 6 station, but no worries. If I go in the wrong direction, I could visit Scott in Brooklyn. I reached my destination, iTrulli restaurant on 27th st, without further ado and like the three wise men, returned home by a different route to avoid further difficulties, taking a cab to Penn station with a few friends from the party.

My next escapade into New York will be Tuesday to see a taping of the Anderson Cooper talk show. I watched it the other day to check out the crowd and they didn't seem to be as nicely dressed as those on the Martha Stewart show, which my sister-in-law had also attended. They were wearing the recommended bright primary colors. So, how to get a NY outfit that's not entirely black--a challenge, but I think I can manage it--maybe bright green jacket over all black.  The guest is Melissa McCarthy--I hope they don't make us watch the bathroom clip from Bridesmaids and I hope the gift is not the DVD!

One more trip planned after that--to play the Stray Boots 5th Avenue game zone. (Check it out!) The 5th Avenue windows were always a favorite outing for Gary and me when the kids were younger--Rockefeller Center, St Patrick's, Trump Tower, FAO Schwarz.  Seems like ages ago, before I started indulging in my Walter Mitty lifestyle. I didn't seem to mind then being the suburban mom with brood in tow, outfitted in our ski jackets and practical boots. Isn't life funny?

Friday, December 2, 2011


As a logical, solutions-oriented kind of person (I just re-took the Meyers-Briggs), I'm always in awe of creativity. On a recent trip to Boston I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located across the bridge into South Boston, not far from the Convention Center. I didn't know much about the place, which made the recent exhibit on dance and art even more surprising and rewarding. 
The ICA sign is a bit off-putting in this area that was originally shipyards and industrial buildings. Is this a modern warehouse for the IGA food markets? 

The view from the water side is completely different and inside the museum there are two outstanding places to view the harbor. The first is an expansive view from a windowed corridor, where I took this picture.

The second is a more intimate, tiered view that focuses just on a narrower subset of waves. When I visited, there was also an inviting, complementary installation of wave shapes overhead in the small seating area. You could also view dance performances on wide screened monitors while sitting there. My favorite was a tribute to the Nijinsky/Nureyev ballet Afternoon of a Faun with that wonderful music. I listen to it now and it still evokes the sunny afternoon, watching the gentle ripples of the harbor, and feeling peaceful.

Other favorites of mine in the exhibit:
Janine Antoni drawing with Loving Care Black dye and her long hair:
You'll never feel the same about coloring your hair!

Another of her creations was an entire canvas composed of mascara from her eyelashes. You know how you sometimes brush up against the bathroom mirror and leave a delicate pattern of your lashes? Well, imagine a whole page of these--talk about getting close to your work.

There were other works created unconventionally without using hands or brushes. One involved a basketball bouncing on a painted surface. Another had three snails do the work--although that must have taken awhile. Gimmicky or art, I don't know, but if art is supposed to give you a new way of looking at the world, it certainly gave me some laughs and opened my unmascaraed eyes to innovative interactions with everyday objects.

One of the most interesting was Trisha Brown's Floor of the Forest: rows of ropes, hung with oversized shirts and pants. A single dancer appeared when I was there, and "interacted" with the installation - snaking her way from one shirt/pants to another, hanging below the ropes and often resembling a cocoon, bat, insect or reptile. Shadows cast on the floor added to the performance. Here's a cut from YouTube with 3 dancers to give you some idea, but as they had to be there.

So if you're in Boston before the Dance/Draw show closes on January 16, take a look. An added bonus: the museum "guards" are all art or art history students, happy to talk about the installations and art works. A fun afternoon!