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Friday, March 30, 2007

No-Spending Plan Tabled, Or, The March Treasurer's Report

By now you all know the story: I'm trying to not to spend any money on myself in 2007. But remember the Jefferson Hotel sale I told you about yesterday? Um, yes, well see the thing is...OK, here's the deal*: since last spring I've been trying to find a wrought iron table for my balcony. I logged significant frequent flyer miles on Smith&Hawken, Tarjay, Craigslist, you name it. The table wasn't out there unless I was willing to pay $300. Which I wasn't. So when I pushed open a tall glass terrace door at the Jefferson and saw one of those perfect $300 tables sitting there, with a price tag of $125, I knew that I was going to have to recalibrate my principles. Make no mistake: I don't dither over whether to recalibrate my principles if the price is right. I do however feel more than a twinge of guilt about this slip now. It's really going to gnaw at me as I spend Saturday morning on the balcony, reading the paper, eating my croissant, at my new table.

Here's the damage for March:

*All phone calls to my parents for my four years of college opened with the phrase "here's the deal." It was immediately followed by a highly cogent explanation for why X-number of dollars were needed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Even Eloise Got Evicted From The Plaza

Yesterday after work I went over to the Jefferson Hotel, which is closing and liquidating. (It was technically invitation only but anyone can go today from 10-7.) Everything's for sale, right down to the hangers and bathrobes. It was fairly quiet when I was there, giving me the chance to poke around in rooms alone. It was a somewhat maudlin and eerie stroll. Sunlight filtered into empty rooms. Stately lodgings had become disheveled, priced-to-go sums of their parts. For two years, when daydreaming, I've looked from my office window, down the street, at one particular balconied room of this hotel. Yesterday, I found my way to that room and stared out the window back at my own office nearby. The room was enormous and had once been grand, just as I'd imagined it. But now the rich wood furniture was covered with a fine coat of dust. I was simultaneously intrigued and a little bummed out to stand inside it.

Waiting for one of the tiny elevator cars that would carry me back down to the ornate and quickly-being-dismantled lobby, I chatted with a nun in full-length habit. Tired from winding her way through the maze of rooms on the eighth floor, she perched on a brocade-seated chair, resting her arm against a pile of several matching ones. "The chairs around the table in our meeting room are so rickety," she told me. "These will be nice." I liked the idea of the chairs moving from a place where rooms once cost $350 a night to providing a nice place for the sisters to sit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No Wonder People Stick With "Goo Goo Ga Ga"

While I do not tend to say the wrong things around adults, I lack the gene that prevents me from sticking my stilettos directly in my mouth when children are involved. Take the case of my former Florida newspaper’s holiday party, when I leaned over to a coworker’s little boy, mustered what I thought passed for interest and enthusiasm and said, “Hi there little guy! Are you ready for Santa?! I bet you’re ready for Santa!” The kid looked at me blankly and his father said tersely, “We’re Jewish,” before hustling him off to the secular cookie buffet.

This quirk is especially problematic now that the birthing season is upon us. There are only 16 units in my co-op, so we’re all fairly chummy. Which means that the decision of about a quarter of the building to breed nine months ago now has me standing in the kitchen every other night whipping up a casserole of some sort. (After significant time in the South I’ve learned there is one appropriate response to birth and death and it's is the same: tuna noodle surprise.)

So when I took a batch of vegetarian goulash to the two lovely women living above us who had twins a few weeks ago, I did the auto-smile, cooed and blurted out: “Ooh, they’re so tiny!” Which was great, because they were born four weeks premature. Then last night I hauled some Florentine mac ‘n cheese to the couple next door and their two-day-old bundle of joy. This visit seemed to be going well. I opened with a “He is beautiful,” (and right after saying it, I knew I meant it) and brought it home with a “So perfect. He doesn’t even have that red blotchiness that babies usually have.” And then the new mother adjusted him on her lap to show that yes, in fact, the side of his little noggin that had been turned away from me was a big pile of blotchy.

Lesson learned: from now on I’m just knocking, chucking the Tupperware at them when they open the door, and fleeing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Thought

First this:

Now this:

If Vogue isn't careful, they're going to make it socially acceptable to eat food again. Maybe even for a whole season.

Thanks to Static Cling for the head's up on the ScarlettJo cover. (Hot for her, not a Vogue reader, in case you're wondering.)

I Think I'm Going to Need a New Passport Photo for the London Trip

This is what happens when you have to go to the passport office on a bad day. Specifically, say your 30th day. On the planet.

(And for once I can't even blame a terrible photo on my hair.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Cherry Blossom Warning: This Event is a Total Rip

Photo by Kerrin-Sue

I can only hope that I get this very important information to you in time: Unless you enjoy flushing $10 bills down the toity, I do not recommend signing up for the Cherry Blossom high tea on the Potomac. (Disclaimer: I speak only from personal experience. Results may vary.) Last year, two friends and I made reservations. We flinched a bit at the $50 per person price tag, which was significantly higher than the swanky tea services offered by The Willard ($37) and The Jefferson ($32). But the schpiel--plugged in nearly every local print and online Cherry Blossom Festival round-up--promised: "See the blossoms from the river on this two-hour cruise featuring seated, full tea service and historical narration. Reservations required." Here's what we got in return:

* A shabby boat that looked and smelled like a floating rec room, with damp industrial carpeting, plastic outdoor tables and chairs (indoors mind you), and fake flowers.
* A handful of Hershey's kisses (whaa?) on the tables and a plate of stale cookies.
* Inedible finger sandwiches on stale white bread and mystery filling. "Soup," poured out of a plastic drink pitcher. It was, I kid you not, pureed tomatoes. Only pureed tomatoes. Like its sandwich bretheren, it too was inedible.
* And the tea? We got a teabag. And a tiny pot of water without a lid on top for three people. When we asked for more tea, one member of the crew of surly men serving the tea came and poured water into the cups with our used teabags in them.
* As for the "historical narration?" The most bizarre assemblage of uninteresting trivia about the various industrial buildings that hunker along the Southeast waterfront, which was all there was to see, because the charter company had started taking bookings for this tea a week before the blossoms were even out.

Our shipmates and the three of us spent the duration of the seemingly interminable trip exchanging "Is this a joke?" glances. Within 48 hours, I'd sent a letter to Capital Yacht Charters stating that this was a bordering-on-fradulant experience based on the price and advertising and that I expected a refund for all three of us. They obliged. Quickly. Clearly, the company in the intervening year realized that they needed to change the way they were doing business. Yes, I see on the ad for this year's that they certainly have changed things. They've raised the price by $10.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"I Think I Smell A Rat, Oh, I Think I Smell A Rat"

Something tells me I've been hosed. More to come later...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mind The Gap

A while back, one of the answers on the Times crossword was "Mind the gap." I didn't have a clue what that meant. The Significant Other looked at me blankly and said "You know, like on the Tube, in London." Well, I didn't know. Because despite the fact that I was born in Europe, I haven't stepped foot on my native soil since age two. I am woefully undertraveled outside of this country. When most college students were backpacking through Europe picking up new languages and STDs, I was using my extra sememster to work on Capitol Hill. Then I became a journalist in the South, which pretty much ensured that I'd never be able to afford traveling again.

So now I am determined. And booked. I reserved the ticket last night and the apartment this morning.
I'll be calling this place home for about a week and a half in May. It's an apartment in South Kensington. It appears to be beautiful but I of course have a twinge of paranoia that I'll arrive and see it's located directly beneath a highway overpass, next to a fat rendering plant, across from a prison.

Here's where you come in. If you've been to London, please advise on what sights, restaurants, etc. I shouldn't miss or should avoid like the plague. Seriously--Ye Olde Plague Museum--go or no?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spend $5 and Be a Hero All Day Long

Can you live without your venti latte tomorrow?
How about one of your beers tomorrow night?

If so, please help out these folks who lost everything in a fatal fire in Charlottesville this weekend by going to this link now to donate $5 (or whatever you can.) Sweet knows them and is asking for help on their behalf, which is a good enough character recommendation for me. Trust me, you'll be repaid karmically.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

There's Definitely Something Being Frosted Over

Ever since CakeLove and Love Cafe opened on U Street, owner and media darling Warren Brown has been defending his sweet treats against criticism that they're subpar because they're served out of refrigerated cases. His unwavering explanation: the health department makes him do it, and yes, deep sigh, he knows that his cakes and cupcakes suffer as a result. If only the customers would educate themselves. Brown even helpfully printed instructional stickers that reference the DC health codes on the back. Given these draconian mandates from the health department butterazis all these years, it's a miracle that he's managed to overcome the odds to get such glowing press from everyone from the Post to People magazine to Oprah.

But then, this week on Brown's own blog, came

"We’re taking the chill off our cupcakes so that every visitor to Love Café gets the best of CakeLove. No one will have to wait for their cupcake to come up to room temperature anymore—now cupcakes will already be at room temperature."

Wow! After years of getting assailed because of a health department rule against which he was powerless, suddenly he can start serving room temperature cupcakes! That must have involved a ton of lobbying, lawyers, and such to get the law changed right? Let's call the health department and ask them about the big shakeup. They must be up to their ears in aftermath of this change!

On second thought, before we add to the health department's surely cah-razy time right now, let's take a closer look at the rest of his blog post:

"Why change things around at Love Cafe? Lots of reasons, but so that I don’t bore you, here’s just one. I love our buttercream and cupcakes, but only when served at room temperature. So why not offer to frost cupcakes at Love Café? I guess a fear of duplicating work is what kept the cupcake production streamlined and localized at the CakeLove."

Looks like Brown's former life as a lawyer is coming in handy. "I guess a fear of duplicating work is what kept the cupcake production streamlined..." I'm going to go out on a limb here and interpret that verbal tapdancing: We've always known that if we whip these cupcakes up in big old batches and refrigerate them, we can store them longer and it makes us a heck of a lot more money than keeping fresher stock in limited quantities, plus we can blame the health department (although no other bakery in town feels the need to do so) when they taste utterly mediocre. We are the masters of economies of scale thinking. But now we think we might be able to work up a system where people pay even more for their frosted-to-order cupcakes, so poof! the old health department rule doesn't affect the same buttercream products anymore.

Mr. Brown? I'm not buyin' it, cupcake.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Turn Your Head and Offer Way Too Much Information

Not that you asked (and trust me, that phrase will set the tone for this post), I haven't posted in a little while because I've been busy getting diagnosed with what is officially the silliest sounding disease ever...wait for it...Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. The long and short of it is that about every six months I start heaving and, as the name implies, can't stop until I sally forth to a hospital for my intervenous cocktail of choice on such occasions--liquid phenergan.

The first time this happened was Christmas 1999. I assumed I was allergic to the pine tree-dotted resort in the Catskills where I was spending the holidays. The last time it happened was at this past fall's Clemson-Virginia Tech football game. (That's my little gameday souvenier from the Montgomery General Hospital in the picture.) While I would have liked to have assumed I was allergic to bad football and Hokies, I knew otherwise. After that incident I decided six years of this foolishness was enough and it was time to figure out what was going on. So I recently turned myself over to the folks at Johns Hopkins. (It's like a spa with doctors. And needles. And scary radiation tests. But seriously, other than that, it's awesome.) So it appears that CVS, the disease named after a drugstore, is my little cross to bear. Which in the grand scheme of health maladies is like having doctors tell you that you're going to break a nail every six months. (That is, in my case. I should note that for some who get this--typically little kids--it can be very serious.)

I share all of this not to make you say "Ewww gross," and do that sneer thing you do with your right nostril. Rather, it is to make you aware of this illness in case you too have evenings of non-stop heaving that you can't attribute to bad shellfish or too much champagne. I'd make yellow rubber "Pukestrong" bracelets, but frankly I think since I and about 10 other people have this thing, I'm not sure I'd break even.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Beauty and the Bus

One summer during college I decided to take a Greyhound bus to visit my sister in New York. It was a stinky and arduous process involving a filthy bus station in an unsavory corner of Baltimore, “salt of the earth” fellow passengers (translation: edgy drifters and mothers yelling disciplinary obscenities at their children), and tedious stops along the route. All this, in the days before gel hand sanitizer. So I was skeptical when friends recently recommended the Washington Deluxe bus service that picks you up at 15th and K and travels directly to midtown Manhattan, and vice versa. When they told me it costs $35 round trip I decided that skepticism was for suckers. In the years since that awful bus trip, I’d routinely been shelling out $120 for either a plane, train or gas-and-toll bill.

Still, after they made the recommendation, I actually took the time to read the Post story from a while back about the questionable safety records of some of these curbside operators. Despite using phrases like “seem to operate with virtual impunity,” and "whatever, it's your funeral," I couldn’t really detect anything for which a $35 dollar roundtrip bus fare could not compensate. That left one hurdle: would the passengers hark back to that trip where I had to sleep with one open eye trained on the scar-jawed dude next to me who looked like he’d shiv me for the peanut butter crackers in my bag?

To the contrary, I can happily report to those of you unfamiliar with the D.C.-to-New York City curbside bus system that it might as well be called The Coldplay Express. Most of the passengers were mid-to-late-20s females. Oversized sunglasses, J. Crew car coats, and tousled top-knotted hair abounded. While, it's a boon for those of us looking for a cheap and plush shuttle to the city, the real jackpot is for the gentlemen on the make. A smart guy looking for a girl would be well advised to budget enough cash to simply spend a weekend going up and back on the thing. With the exception of the occasional male hipster, pretty young women with little else to occupy them for four hours fill the seats. It’s like a Jane Austen novel on wheels.

Godspeed travelers.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Title of Greatest City in the World Will Temporarily Be Transferred

I'm migrating (albeit in the wrong direction) for the next four days. Have a lovely week/weekend. If I call, please answer; I've probably inadvertantly made like Sherman McCoy and I'm looking for bail money. Not that I'm planning on running anyone over in the Bronx, mind you, but I like to have all bases covered.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Waiting for Guffman or a New Campaign Manager

Dear lord I wish I could take credit for this post but it has to go to my Significant Other. As we sat cringing the other night watching Hillary Clinton do her fake Southern accent,

something occurred to him.
Fast-forward to 1:49 on the counter:

Yes, Hillary Clinton, running for president of the United States, is delivering speeches with roughly the same level of talent that Dr. Allen Pearl displayed in his Blaine Fabin performance. Respectfully Hillary, just like fire, people just don't like fake accents, poked, poked in their noses.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Never Send to Know For Whom the Bell Tolls. It Tolls for Thee, Brah

I view young lad Jason of MTV's Laguna Beach fame, arrested last weekend, not as some vacuous moron, but rather, a modern-day Icarus, flying too closely to the searing heat that is Rumors nightclub in downtown Greenville, North Carolina.

I post this only because I used to cover crime in downtown Greenville, North Carolina. And because that mugshot is ridiculous.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What the Hells? An Investigation Into Why Your M'Dawg Hot Dog Just Cost $8

UPDATE: The Washington Post realizes that to sit on this hot dog pricing story is to sit on Watergate! I guess this makes me Woodward. Or Bernstein. At the very least it makes me Woodstein.

I've been more excited about the opening of M'Dawg Haute Dogs than a vegetarian should be. But I figured they'd offer a veggie "haute dog," increasing my cheap neighborhood dining options. That it's owned by the same folks who run Amsterdam Falafelshop was a good omen. So on Saturday afternoon we ambled down for our inaugural visit. There it was on the menu: The Virgin Dawg, no meat. Brilliant. And it only costs(NEEDLE SCRATCH ON THE RECORD)...$5.50?! Add in the side of fries for $2.75 and nearly $2 for a medium soda and I was shocked to find myself digging into my wallet for a tenspot. Well, surely this was going to be the Chanel suit of veggie dogs, earning its "haute" moniker and price tag, nestled in a tasty bun next to a generous pile of golden fries. Eh, not so much. It was a thin veggie dog no different in size or savoriness than the frozen Morningstar Farms links I get from Safeway, plunked in a potato bun. The small boat of fries could have fit into my palm. Across the table, my Significant Other was eyeballing his brat and soda skeptically, looking bemused to find himself $8 lighter considering what was in front of him.

None of it made sense: how could the same people who serve up such delicious and appropriately sized portions at Amsterdam be peddling such overpriced fare across the street? Sure the rent for Adams Morgan retail space has to be ridiculous but that doesn't mean you can just charge $6 or $8 for a hot dog and call it a day. A quick Google search indicated I wasn't alone. People were getting downright pissy about M'Dawg prices and veggie dog quality.

So I called the shop yesterday. The co-owners weren't around but a polite guy took the message. A tip of the hat to co-owner Arianne Bennett calling me back within a matter of minutes, considering the message said "blogger" and "prices." Bennett is as chill as you'd expect for someone who, along with husband Scott, brought tasty and convenient falafel to the masses two years ago at Amsterdam. She didn't strike me as the type to sell $8 wieners with the sole intent of bolstering her ivory backscratcher collection. Thus unfolded the plaintive tale of The Little Guy (er, Gal):

* She started by acknowledging that the veggie dog "isn't a good one to judge prices on." Why? Because my grumpy pronouncement that it tasted no different than the Morningstar Farms ones I buy was dead on. It is a Morningstar Farm hot dog. Until her husband can come up with a superlative, handmade veggie dog, they're using the most popular mass-produced brand as determined by polling on the Adams Morgan listserv, Arianne said.

* M'kay, but that doesn't really explain the prices. Turns out, the sausages sold at M'Dawg come from different producers around the country who hand-separate the meat from the bone, as a butcher would. Arianne said their pre-launch research indicated this is crucial because a mechanically separated dog means you're likely getting bone and all other nasty bits in your dog. And several of M'Dawg's sausages come from organic, wild pig farms where Wilbur enjoys more creature comforts than his industrial pig farm counterparts before meeting his demise. Think more Whole Foods, less 7-Eleven or streetcorner cart.

* But here's the main thing compounding the price problem: because M'Dawg is such a small operation, their meat orders don't hit the 1,500-pound mark that most vendors require to ship a full pallet at a discounted rate. So M'Dawgs has to pay their suppliers retail and they have to have the stuff FedExed to them. "We're not getting any kind of deal," Arianne said. And as for their half-smoke costing about 45 cents more than the same ones at Ben's Chili Bowl? "I'm not paying U Street rent," she said, "I'm paying 18th Street rent." Finally, with their bevy of gourmet toppings (available for another buck--and which I later noticed the girl at the register had just automatically charged me without asking), they think they offer something more for late-night diners than the standard undercooked slice of pizza. "It's kind of a higher-end outfit," she said of her shop.

There might be some good news in the future. "It is possible prices will go down," Arianne said. When the Bennetts opened Amsterdam Falafelshop they started "at the bare bones" prices and then had to raise them. "That made people really unhappy," she said. How unhappy? "They were getting mad at the people working the register. We thought this time that if we started at a high enough price, we might be able to get better deals eventually and lower the prices."

So there it is. Apparently, it's hard out there for an independent hot dog pimp. I suppose it's no different than the way I pick which hardware store to patronize. Rather than stepping foot in Home Depot, I will always pay at least a third more at 17th Street Hardware, because it's a local, independent and friendly shop. Same should go for hot dogs too, I guess.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hallmark of...Oh, forget it, here's a Happy Hour recap

Fun was had:
* The hosts handled their combined debut like rock stars.
* I have to believe that the conversations I had with Arjewtino and Scott the Shot marked the first time that any guys ever stood in The Front Page talking to a girl about how wonderful the women in their lives (who couldn't make it) were.
* Talked to a crop of nice new bloggers, as well as the vets. Coveted Attention Span of a Fly's dress. Finally met Martin who made my jaw drop when he said he's been doing this for five years. Five years people. I can't think of any hobby I've had for five years, besides silently judging people.

Mistakes were made:
* I spent more than 15 minutes at The Front Page.
* My feckless attempt to organize the masses left the Rambler crooning a plaintive "All By Myself" at The Bar.
* Went home and had a reaction to some bad, errr, shellfish.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

An Antique Silver Loophole in The February Treasurer's Report

While lounging in a French Quarter shop a few weeks ago waiting for the owner to wrap four silver mint julep cups I'd plucked from his shelves for my sister's birthday present, it occurred to me that altruism could be just the thing to get me through this no spending on myself plan. Technically, I can't shop for me. But there's nothing in the rules against buying unto others. Quite to the contrary, how could I not honor this significant birthday with a significant gift? Sure they were pricey, I thought while he wrapped them in delicate French tissue paper, but not only am I getting her a smashing gift, I'm helping the New Orleans economy rebound.

Time to tally the February receipts for shopping on myself.
You might be clucking with disapproval upon seeing that an amount pops up this month. That's supposed to be zero, you say. You'd be right. But as I explained last week , my gloves got a hole in them and I can't very well go around looking like a hobo. So $11.89 was spent on a (ridiculous) pair of new gloves. That leaves $2.09, which was spent purchasing two songs from iTunes. So I slipped a bit. If only I could find a way to justify it as a charitable contribution. As with January, dining expenses continue to be about half as much as the previous year when I'm not going out and shopping all the time. The irony being that the less I dine out, the more I lose weight, and the more I need new clothes. What a pickle. March is going to be tricky...

Four Things I Became Aware of Last Night

1. Beer improves my ability to ice skate.

2. The Boston Red Sox have a player named "Coco Crisp."

3. Beer improves my ability to make fun of men named Coco Crisp.

4. All referees involved in the Texas-Texas A&M game last night were blind, corrupt, and incompetent. I mean I'm just guessing based on the vehement assertions coming out of the living room after I got home.

UPDATE: This has been brought to my attention: