Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Finally! Been here almost a year and this winter has seen only a light dusting of snow. This morning, I woke up to look out the window and see THIS sight- I felt like "Santa came! Santa came!" It's so beautiful.

An added benefit- we are pretty far north so it doesn't get light until like 7:30 am. When all this white, reflective stuff falls, it really magnifies what little sun we have and makes getting up a lot easier. Gorgeous, I tell you!

The car said it was 13 degrees when I got in this morning. We are so spoiled that our 78 year old landlord had already shoveled? blown? our front walk, so I can even wear my normal high heels to work, apparently.

I know, I know, we'll see how I feel about the snow when John is in Dallas for a conference this weekend, and I am left to drive in it by myself and make sure the pipes in the house don't freeze and burst!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The "Magic 8 Ball" Tells No Lies!!

When I began my legal career at a fancy downtown Los Angeles law firm back in 1999, I had a hard time switching from the fun and frivolity of college and grad school, over to the seriousness of the highrise workplace.

Although I wore the fancy suits and pearls, and tried to fake it and act like grown-up, I did keep one holdover item from my youth: the Magic 8 Ball. I won it at an event right after law school, and I thought that was good luck in itself. So it went right on my desk.

Where it has sat for most of my professional years, answering the personal and professional questions for which there seemed to be no discoverable answer. "Should I object to this line of questioning?" . . . "My reply is no." "Is my wedding going to go off without a hitch?" . . . "Yes - definitely." It has usually become a resource for others in the office, as well, and there are several secretaries in my office who consult its wisdom regularly.

So today, against all my better judgment, I asked the ol' 8 Ball the burning question of my life right now: "Am I going to pass the New York Bar Exam this February?" (you have to be careful in posing your questions, you see, because, without asking in particular, it could effectively answer in such a way that could mean I'd pass the July bar, having failed on the first try.)

The first reply was terrifying- "Reply hazy - try again."

Nail biter!! But my fears were assuaged with, "It is decidedly so."

So, there you have it! The Magic 8 Ball never lies. I feel so much better now.

P.S. Annie Fun Fact: I was a Magic 8 Ball for Halloween one year: it was fun because it was interactive, but boy did I get shaken a lot!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Helpful Hints, from stressed-out budding-lawyers

As you know, I've been studying for the February New York bar like a maniac (in addition to working full time). One of the (many) bummers about studying for that beast is that I'm doing it in total isolation- not only am I not taking a bar review course, I don't know anyone else who is studying for it since it is the "off" time (i.e. not the July test date) and also since the closest law school is probably Cornell in Ithaca - 60 miles away.

Now put this into perspective- when I was studying for the California bar in June/July 1999, it seemed like I couldn't get away from other people studying for the bar. I lived in Beverly Hills, took the course in Manhattan Beach and also studied in Palos Verdes- these are prime locations to walk into any Starbucks or library and find a bunch of stressed-out-looking people with huge stacks of books in front of them, being really cranky at anyone who distracts them.

In Binghamton? Not so much. If I head to our local county library, I am far more likely to recognize some of the local sex offenders (who all seem to live within a block of it) than anyone actually studying. The only good thing about finding others who are studying for the bar is that you really need someone to - not so much to study with- but to commiserate with.

So I decided to find some human connection and support in the place where I've been forced to turn for the past year since I moved here. . . the Internet! So I thought I'd share some of the more hilarious pearls of wisdom that I found on people's blogs yesterday. I think they give the reader an accurate glimpse into the uniquely hellish cocoon that is Bar Exam Studying:

1. "Take advantage of time to shop during your last semester, and stock up on shorts/pants with stretchy waistbands. You will need them for your Bar Review fat. Trust me."

2. "Consider setting up a food delivery service and/or maid service if you can afford it."

3. "When you go to pick up your BarBri books, keep in mind that you will get a giant box with 9 ginormous books in them that is VERY HEAVY and awkward to carry. Plan accordingly."

4. "You might find it useful to learn and practice meditation breathing techniques in order to calm yourself down when you start to panic (for use during the actual exam)."

5. "Make sure your significant other understands that he/she is not permitted to break up with you during this time."

6. "Your family and friends won't really understand what you're going through, and this can be isolating. I found it helpful to ask them to imagine that I was pregnant and due at the end of July. It's analogous -- you will need their support during an intense and stressful time; you will have to do what's best for *you* and be more selfish than normal during this unique experience, and they will have to be understanding about that; your mood swings may make you unpredictable; and they will need to remember that it's only temporary, so you are not being unreasonable."

7. "Plan ahead and ask a close friend or relative if they can bring your dog or cat to the vet if it becomes necessary right before the Exam. Animals are very observant and will know that you are stressed, and this may in turn make them stressed, and they might start feeling ill or start doing weird things."

I did not make any of these up. I think the first and the last are my favorite. I don't know if this exercise made me feel any better or worse, but what I found sure did make me laugh!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ironic Weather

I receive many emails from friends and family in L.A., asking "how cold is it?" in Binghamton. This winter has been disturbingly warm here. My joke around the office is that I don't even believe that it snows here, because I've lived here nearly a year and hardly seen any. So far this winter, I think it's snowed only a c0uple of times, and nothing appreciable. It has been in the 40s lately!

So how ironic is it that Los Angeles is facing record cold? If it snows in Los Angeles and NOT in Binghamton, that will certainly be one for the record books.
(The photo was taken from my office window, looking down on the old courthouse, in November, I believe. This was the most snow I've seen all winter!)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Obscene? This community thinks so.

In studying for the New York bar exam, I have been thrust back into a strange land full of archaic legal thoeries, strange words, and post traumatic stress disorder from the last time I did this, for the California bar exam. But it does make for the occasional blog entry, so I guess I got that going for me.

For instance, I need to memorize the "tests" for what kind of "speech" constitutes obscenity that can legally be restricted or prohibited. The Miller Test (flowing from a 1973 California obscenity case, in fact) holds as follows:

"The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be:
(a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
(b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and
(c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

I was having trouble figuring out how this application of "contemporary community standards" would play itself out, in practice, until we stopped for gas yesterday and I came across this at the local gas station. In front of each of the magazines- and I mean each because nearly every magazine that is for sale these days, it seems, has some racey cover- was a little homemade cardboard cutout square, attempting to mask the (apparently obscene) image behind it.

Take a good look at what the cardboard is hiding, though. It's Maxim magazine, which is just a men's magazine like GQ. Sure, it has sexy covers, but it's not a Hustler or Penthouse with really graphic nudity inside (and out). Maxim is just appealing to its target demographic to move product, and, strangely, is not even as sexy as some of the Cosmopolitan covers I've seen, aimed at women buyers!

Binghamton is known for being pretty conservative- it was birthplace of IBM, which had a no-drinking policy for its employees, and also birthplace of a particularly virulent strain of Catholic-fueled, anti-abortion sentiment in the 1980s. I think these little cardboard cutouts are a good example of applying "community standards" to material that is deemed (locally) to be "obscene."

The only problem is, if they keep up that level of censorship, they aren't going to sell any magazines! Ah, the local marketing minds hard at work once again, to drive the economy further into the ground- we can't even freely peddle smut!

Only in Los Angeles

As I approach my 1-year anniversary of living in Binghamton (February 9th, but who's keeping track? ME!), I sometimes have flashes of the feeling that my "head," or my basic frame of reference, is gradually shifting away from Los Angeles, although I won't go so far as to say it is shifting to Binghamton.

Case in point: an NBC tv news article today, about the terrible fire in Malibu that raised several homes, which reads, in part:

"Actress Victoria Principal was among the residents who rushed out to hose down their houses. Her publicist says she offered food and water to her neighbors who couldn't get to their houses."

What? The "news" article is citing Victoria Principal's publicist, regurgitating the spin-doctor's story that her client, Ms. Principal, was basically a girl scout in the face of the fire? How can a news agency weave a publicist's comments into what is purporting to be a real news story?

Now, if this were a story about Victoria Principal's love child or something, go ahead and turn to her publicist for part of the foundation of your article, but come on, Los Angeles! Let's get more serious in our public discourse, because, with reporting like that, you are really earning the bad reputation you have for being frivolous.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Let there be no confusion in this market . . .

The first time I came to Binghamton, I noticed a cute downtown restaurant named Zazou. John confirmed that this was a reputable, cute, girly place with some of the best food around.

Part of the reason it caught my eye is that there is a similarly reputable, cute, girly restaurant in Redondo Beach by the same name (see photo). Both of these establishments are about 5 to 10 years old, and neither one is what you'd call "famous." Let me be clear: NOT ONCE DID IT EVER CROSS MY MIND THAT THESE TWO RESTAURANTS COULD BE AFFILIATED IN ANY WAY.

Now flash forward a couple of years to last month, when I'm listening to a boring conversation at lunchtime, and someone announces that our local Zazou will be changing its name because some restaurant in California threatened to sue for some sort of name infringement.

I snapped to attention: WHAT? Was I dreaming? I can pretty much guarantee that I am the only human being on this planet who has dined in or ever even laid eyes on BOTH of these restaurants.

What is the California restaurant afraid of? That the Binghamton Zazou is going to cut into their business? That all those Binghamton Zazou diners who have a bad experience here are going to avoid the Redondo Zazou on their next trip to Los Angeles? What could the fear possibly be? Not sure, but it really, really makes me laugh.

Quite possibly the best part of all, however, is the new name for the cute, girly, lavender-colored-rock-sugar-on-your-lemonade-glass-with-a-pink-flexi-straw: D.C. DUMSTER'S.

?Que? Am I again dreaming? It might as well be called D.C. DUMPTRUCK'S because that name sounds like it should be a beer-encrusted sports joint with regulars arriving when they open at 6:30 a.m.

Geez. No girly-girl wants to brag that her wedding is being catered by D.C. Dumster's, I'm sorry. I guess it's the guy's name, and he's apparently fearful of name infringement, but, come on, couldn't he think of anything more appropriate than that?

But officer, I reeeeeeeally had to pee . . .

One of the reasons I find blogging fun is that it forces me to research and find out things I would never in a million years have otherwise discovered. Here is a case in point:

On my trip to Los Angeles over the holidays, I (of course) spent a lot of time checking out the changes in my downtown, and I was surprised to see that the long-awaited $1/4 million (yes, that's $250,000 EACH) public bathrooms, which have been the subject of so much for controversy for at least the past 5 years, have finally been installed in 4 places.

By way of background, downtown suffers from a lack of public restroom facilities. This most often comes up when discussing the homeless, and whether or not it is legal to cite someone for public urination when they are homeless and have no other alternative but to pee (or much, much worse, believe me) right out in public. It's obviously a huge sticking point (no pun intended) with the local (non-homeless) residents and business people.

It's such a big problem that I had to research it, since business people were actually getting cited for washing down the poop on the sidewalk in front of their businesses because it goes down the gutter, into the ocean, and spreads e coli or something totally disgusting that I want to stop writing right now. Ew. Flashbacks. Anyway, suffice it to say that I have intimate knowledge of facts on subjects such as the volume of feces the average person produces each day (you'd be shocked).

So the city ponied up a $MILLION$ to buy four of these free-standing, European style potties that are self-cleaning, timed automatic doors, etc. They have running water, are automated and also physically hooked into the sewer through the sidewalk, and it costs a ton to install them (ripping up the sidewalk, etc.), not to mention the price of the actual structure.

By the way, I believe the Americans with Disabilities Act required that they be able to have the door closed for at least 20 minutes, after which time they would automatically open. This is terribly awkward for at least 2 reasons: 1) if you are truly disabled, or just sick, and aren't finished within that time, you could find yourself stuck on the toilet when the door automatically opens to the busy sidewalk, and also 2) if you are a hooker or druggie looking for 20 minutes of privacy, there is a LOT you can efficiently accomplish in that chunk of time.

So once the city bought them, it was a massive controversy over where to place them. None of the legitimate businesses or residents wanted them anywhere near them, since they were anticipated to be huge crime and filth magnets. One did get installed at 5th and San Julian (in the heart of Skid Row) before I left, and it was quite the happening spot, shall we say.

So I was rather surprised to see one located at 5th and Hill Street, right atop the Metro stop at Pershing Square, and close to the bustling Jewelry District, but not the classiest corner (but a great spot if you are looking for heroin- it's where actor Leif Garrett was arrested a year ago).

So when this fancy pisseria (I think that's actually what they call them in European slang) appeared in my path, I had to laugh at the sign that said it is STILL not in service!! Years of getting the political will and the money to buy them, another several heated years of figuring out where to physically place them, and it's still "Not In Service (yet)." The "yet" made me think that someone was reeeeeally being hopeful about having a clean, safe spot to "rest" when shopping downtown. Hopefully they aren't holding . . . their breath.

In looking into this matter, though, I found that there is something called the American Restroom Association, which advocates for free access to safe, clean, well-designed bathrooms across the country. Who knew?? And who knows? I'll need a job when I get back to Los Angeles- this might be right up my . . . alley.

p.s. John noted that the 2007 World Toilet Summit is going to be held in . . . wait for it . . . New Delhi, India! Having been there, I can think of no place more appropriate, since the place is basically one giant toilet (apologies to my gracious host, Sanjeev).

Yes, spending a month in India taught me the discipline of prolonged bladder control, since there really wasn't any place I'd consider visiting in my daily touristing. My (male) travel companions just used the sidewalk, like everyone else!

p.p.s. To this post, I have to add that the BEST thing about people peeing on the sidewalk in Downtown Los Angeles is that . . . it washes away the vomit!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Holiday Haiku


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Douchebag Diplomacy (sorry for the vulgarity, just quoting an "honorable" Congressman!)

Traveling back to Binghamton after a long and luxurious visit with family in Los Angeles, I felt right at home at LAX when I ran into 2 well-known actors and my first lobbying client (sorry, mom, it was a slot machine manufacturer), all in the security line.

But the best run-in lay ahead of me, on the airplane, where I ran into someone else I knew. I would never have noticed him except for the following scene that played out in the two rows immediately behind us. Try to follow along:

In the row immediately behind us sit 3 people: a middle-aged man behind John (we'll call him "Seat Recliner"), an 8 year old girl, and then a 4 year old boy behind me (who kicked my seat the whole flight and who I had to have a chat with, despite the fact that his mother was sitting right there and seeing the whole thing). In the row behind those 3 was a middle aged couple (the man ("Angry Dad") and woman ("Enabler") sitting down, wearing glasses in the photo) and their 6'4" son ("Gigantor") sitting on the aisle, himself sitting behind the middle aged guy behind John.

So right before we are getting ready to land, we hear some loud, raised voices getting into an argument just behind us. Apparently, Seat Recliner had invaded Gigantor's meager leg room one too many times on the flight, and Angry Dad intervened on behalf of his son and laid into Seat Recliner. Despite the eyeglasses, Angry Dad was a bit of a football-jock-meathead-type, and he got pretty loud, although not overly rude. He said something to the effect of "My son is 14 years old and 6'4". You are an adult. Just because you have the ability to put your seat back, doesn't mean you should."

Then Seat Recliner started going off about being a bad role model for his kids and a bad dad or something, and Angry Dad started getting really mad, at which point his Enabler wife, who clearly has to endure this behavior frequently, started shushing him ("Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.") and trying to defuse the situation.

There was a lull in the arguing, and, just when you thought it was over, each participant had to get in his parting jab. Loudly, but under his breath, one said "Asshole," to which the other replied, "Douchebag." Priceless.

So when we landed a few minutes later, I was eager for the chance to get a good look at our brawling backseat neighbors. As though the blogger gods had sent me a belated Christmas gift, I realized that I knew the "douchebag"- he was none other than a California Assemblyman-turned-Congressman named Adam Schiff. I hadn't seen him since my lobbying days in Sacramento, but it was definitely him.

My guess was confirmed when I realized that it was an L.A.-to-D.C. flight, and that it would explain the super-snotty and inattentive mother sitting across the aisle and letting her 4-year-old kick the crap out of the back of my seat for 4 hours and 15 minutes. (As a bit of icing on the cake, Adam's wife is named Eve - she was every bit the stuffy Congressman's wife.)

As a side note, our dear Eve almost got into a fight, herself, when we landed and a guy opened the overhead bin and a small bag fell on her. She was not so much injured as offended that someone would allow an errant object to touch her. She got all pissy at the guy, who was a very nice, gigantic, muscly, black guy with big diamond earrings, by the way. When she said something about how he should be more careful, he was way too classy to say anything even in his own defense.

His don't-talk-shit-to-my-man-or-I'll-kick-your-ass fiancee (we'll call her "Feyonce' ") however, was quick to insert herself, and said to Eve "It's not like he did it on purpose!" It stopped there but I'm pretty sure that, had we not been on an airplane governed by serious federal transportation rules, Feyonce' would have taken Adam's Eve out to the Garden and given her a little streetwise lesson about sin . . .

OK, back to Congressman Seat Recliner. A couple of thoughts: First, Congressman Schiff is apparently big in foreign affairs, which made me wonder if he shares his special brand of Douchebag Diplomacy with foreign officials around the world. One can only imagine the "ugly American" that he might be when traveling abroad. Ugh.

Second, the thing that Angry Dad said really struck a chord with something I have recently been thinking about politicians and their ethical and moral compasses. In my observation, there are 2 kinds of politicians: the ones who do everything they can that is technically not illegal, and then the ones who are just plain corrupt.

The corrupt ones are the ones you read about (a small percentage of all politicians), and the envelope-pushers are all the rest. These (the envelope-pushers) are the guys who milk every perk, every benefit of holding public office, either because they think they deserve it or just because they can get it away with it . . . technically. Just because he was technically within the rules to keep pushing his seat back, Congressman Seat Recliner should really have been more thoughtful and realized that the kid behind him was unusually tall and also young and pretty helpless to defend his knees and, more importantly, his personal dignity. Best to have a simple chat with him before putting the seat back or, better yet, not recline at all (it was only a 4 hour flight, and not a late night one).

That was a long blog, but the moral of the story for this entry is that you can rest assured that our elected officials are spreading their own special brand of Douchebag Diplomacy all over the world, one nearly-physical altercation at a time.