Jon Stewart’s accidental legacy of snideness

13 Feb

Don’t get me wrong: I love Jon Stewart, and I’ll miss him. He’s witty, he hires great writers, his eye roll delivery is consistently pitch-perfect. For years, he’s been the nation’s best media critic. His brief monologue after the Charlie Hebdo slayings, about remembering who the true enemy is, was breathtaking.

But sometimes I worry that, without meaning to, he helped to spawn a couple of depressing trends in modern civic life. The first is the blurring of the lines between sarcasm and news. The second is the inevitable creep from sarcasm to snideness.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

In ‘Fifty Shades,’ it’s not the sex, it’s the stuff

13 Feb

There are several kinds of porn in “Fifty Shades of Grey”: house porn, clothes porn, closet porn, helicopter porn, all of them more interesting than the sex scenes that have caused so much breathless anticipation. Those come across as stiffly academic, a cataloguing of body parts and equipment. The passion is largely missing.

The real appeal is the stuff. Imagine Christian Grey as a brooding freegan, who stalks our heroine in a beat-up Hyundai, lures her to his tiny house, then pulls a stash of whips and chains from a compartment under the bed-slash-sofa-slash-kitchen-table — and the whole thing falls apart.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

A Lady-Centric Political Dictionary for Men

15 Oct

Inspired by news in the Massachusetts governor’s race. Read the full Boston Globe column here.

Lady-centric terminology: A lexicon for men in politics.

sweetheart [sweet-hart]


1. A woman, probably younger than you, who insists on asking you unpleasant questions in the capacity of her job.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’d love to give you an answer, but my aide here is telling me I need to duck into this automobile.”

perky [pur-kee]


1. Shorter than you

2. Energetic, in that adorably lighthearted way that women always are.

“She looked so perky when she recommended changes in the laws regarding debt collection and predatory loans.”

controlling [kuhn-trohl-ing]


1. A woman who inexplicably would prefer that you to do something different from what you have been doing for all of this time.

2. Acting in her capacity as a wife

Chicken Diary: Entry 4

6 Jun

This week’s installment also appears in the Boston Globe, where I explained the fate of Lou (aka Woo) and the fine line between chickens to be loved and chickens to be eaten. (Is it fair to blame a cat for being a cat?)


‘NO ONE’S going to eat my chickens.” That’s been my mantra ever since we took a spontaneous trip to the feed store and came home with four baby chicks. And yes, I knew how hypocritical that sounded. We had organic chicken thighs and roasting chickens in the freezer.

But these adorable balls of fluff, grand prize winners in the lottery of poultry life, were going to be pets. They got a home in our bathroom, under a heat lamp, while they grew. They got names: BeBe, Dee Dee, Lanie, and Lou. Our kids would learn about responsibility and animal development.

They’d also learn, sooner than we realized, about the brutality of nature. Three weeks into our chicken odyssey, my 5-year-old son would rush to my husband and announce, in his pre-K diction, “A cat got Woo.”

Read the rest of the column here.

Chicken Diary: Entry 3

4 Jun


RIP Lou, 5/17/14-6/3/14


More to come.

Chicken Diary: Entry 2

26 May


            I grew up in an allergic household. We never had dog or a cat. But when I became a latch-key child in 4th grade – welcome to the ‘80s — I begged so loudly for an animal that my parents consented to a guinea pig. She had orange hair and a deafening squeak, and my parents insisted on calling her Aretha. I had wanted to name her Fluffy. They made the right choice.

             I loved Aretha desperately, because I desperately needed something to love. I fed her carrots, did cross-stitch embroidery in her honor, lifted her out of her aquarium cage so she could run around the kitchen and play. I’m not sure she loved me back. She definitely liked the carrots, but when I put her on the floor, she would dash to the corner and poop, and in retrospect, I don’t think she appreciated it when I spun her in a Lazy Susan.

            Still, I tried hard to imagine that something about her regular morning squeaks, or her ferocity with the salt lick, proved that she was an unusually interesting guinea pig. Maybe she was. The standards aren’t especially high. And it didn’t matter; whatever our pets are, we hope that, if they don’t love us back with equal fervor, they’ll at least give us some approximation of a human relationship.

             This is how I feel about the chicks. We sit in the overheated bathroom, watch them peck and eat and take brief naps, call them “Chicky Baby” and “Dudette,” and try to figure out their personalities. At 13 days old, they’re growing fast; they’re still small and fuzzy, but their wing feathers are starting to come in, their tails are puffing out, and something about their lengthening beaks telegraphs “bona fide poultry” instead of “tiny baby animal.” I can imagine them as chickens, the way I can sometimes look at A and imagine her as a teenager. But I don’t want them just to be chickens. I want them to be individuals.

            And they are. In the earliest days, A discovered that they had different rituals for pooping: One of the yellow Buff Orpingtons would lift her wings before she let go, while one of the Barred Rocks would stretch a leg. Then A decided that DeeDee, the smaller yellow chick, was the most curious. Then we started wondering if Lanie, a black-and-white chick, was getting pushy. A week later, we know that DeeDee, still the smallest, is also the calmest, though she chirps the loudest when you pick her up. BeBe stretches her heads the most, in possible greeting, when we come into the room. Lanie is still most likely to flap her wings and push her sisters out of the way. And whenever I reach in to pull wood shavings from their food bowl, Lou almost always leaps onto my arm and climbs up to my shoulder. Maybe she’s just looking for food. I want to think she’s curious.

            If they don’t have complete relationships with us yet, they surely have relationships with each other. At one point, Dan read that Barred Rocks are more aggressive than Buff Orpingtons, and warned that we needed to watch out for bullying. But Dee Dee is the one who will grab a wood chip and run around the cage, as if she’s teasing. I’ve caught myself leaning over their bin and saying, “You guys have to be nice to each other.” Maybe they get a vibe? The other morning, when I opened the door to check on them, I found them sleeping comfortably in pairs: one black and one yellow apiece, snuggled together.



Chicken Diary: Entry 1

21 May



We have chicks.

Four of them.

This happened spontaneously, in a way: After nearly a year of hemming and hawing, visiting neighbors’ chickens and doing leisurely online searches, Dan came to me early last Saturday morning and said, “Let’s do it before I talk myself out of it.”

He had found a feed store in Walpole, Massachusetts that sold chicks and chicken supplies. It was 9 a.m. We had plans midday. I roused 10-year-old A from the TV, where she was engaged in her weekly Disney Channel binge, and said, “Turn it off. We have a mission. You’re going to like it.”

She did. I did, too. We lost our cat two years ago, and we desperately need pets. The betta fish in the living room is nice, but insufficient. Dan doesn’t want another cat: he still has residual trauma from cleaning cat pee. We’d love a dog, but we’re waiting until 5-year-old J graduates, himself, to a less dog-like state.

But he loves animals. We love animals. We love animals that can live in the backyard. In warm-weather days, Jesse spends as much time as he can digging through the flower beds, collecting snails and caterpillars, inchworms and earthworms, lining them up and watching them go. Snails are decent entertainment — they come out to say hello, waving antennae, slimy and beautiful — but they disappear in the cold-weather months. Chickens will sustain us through the winter. They’ll huddle in cold weather and keep themselves warm. Our friends on the next block have three chickens that survived last winter’s Polar Vortex, many times over. They make adorable noises. And – fringe benefit — they lay eggs. Dan asked me to look up “Buff Orpington,” a hearty New England breed, and friendly. One website said the chickens like to sit on people’s laps. I was sold.

Soon enough, so were the chicks. We found them milling around, pecking at air, in a heated container near the entry of the store. We’d imagined getting three, but the store attendant recommended four, the better for winter huddling. He lifted a quartet of five-day-olds and put them in a box: Two Buff Orpingtons, classic-chick yellow, and two Barred Rocks, black with speckles of white fuzz. We bought a giant bag of medicated feed, an even larger bag of pine shavings, a heat lamp bulb, and containers for food and water. The chicks made cheeping sounds and pooped in the box, which A held on her lap for the ride home.

I rifled through the basement storage area and found a big plastic bin, filled with Lego Duplos. (Another fringe benefit: This was the motherlode of Lego Duplos, handed down to us by someone or other, elephants and cranes and train tracks, long forgotten, now beloved.)

The chicks have a new home: a bin in the bathroom, covered by wire, warmed by a 250-watt heat lamp, which will sustain them for week as they grow, and buy us time to find a coop by the time they’re ready to move outside. They have names, which A and I settled on that day: Bebe, DeeDee, Lanie, and Lou.

A is already a champ at cleaning chicken poop. And J is quickly learning what it’s like to be a parent.  “I don’t ever want them to get big,” he keeps saying. I know exactly how he feels.


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