Sunday, June 27, 2010

Personal Breast

The Dreaded Mammogram

Valerie says: The annual pap smear - during which a strange man or woman brings your private parts into contact with speculums, gels, swabs, and probing fingers in rubber gloves, all while your legs are up in the air and you can’t see what’s going on – has nothing on the periodic mammogram - during which a strange woman flattens and locks your breast in a vise that conjures up lobster claws and iron maidens, and then leaves the room while you’re half naked, immobile and cross-eyed with discomfort. I sometimes wonder whether any women have ever had the electricity go out during their mammogram. Is there manual override? (Notice the serene body language of the woman in the photo above. That's because the pressure has yet to be applied.)

(Jean says: Remind me NOT to consult Valerie before scheduling my own overdue mammogram. She manages to come up with even more horrifying speculations than my own fevered brain! Somehow, references to lobster claws and iron maidens just don't make me want to rush out and sign up. Methinks there is little chance of her becoming the American Radiological Society's spokesperson any time soon. For me, the term "Iron Maiden" conjures up a concept even scarier than the medieval instrument of torture. Yes, people, I mean none other than the English heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, founded in 1975 in Leyton, East London. What on this earth could possibly be more terrifying than being trapped in a mammogram machine and forced to listen to such headbanger favorites as The Trooper, 2 Minutes to Midnight, Fear of the Dark, Run To the Hills and The Number of the Beast"?)

Valerie continues: I have little fear of doctors, so when I’m told to get a mammogram, I do, and have left numerous films over the past 15 years with the numerous doctors I’ve had to change to and from as my health insurance changed, or as my doctors wearied of my health insurance providers’ policies.

In 2007, I went for an exam, as mandated by my doctor. I had spent several weeks hunting down old mammograms from various sources, and brought them to the facility for comparison purposes. This was the first time I’d ever had a painful test. I was having a particularly severe bout of chronic cystic mastitis (just plain swelling, brought on in my case by a minimal intake of caffeine), and I felt as though someone had sewn bowling balls into my chest the night before while I was asleep.

(See the photo at left for some idea what this is like.) Unfortunately, bowling balls - I mean cysts - make mammograms harder to read. After the mammogram, instead of being reprieved for a year, I was brought to the facility's doctor.

The doctor explained to me that they’d like to do a biopsy on two suspect spots, where he said I had calcifications, which are sometimes associated with cancer. He was very kind and calm, and laid out all the facts for me. I left with an appointment, feeling not happy – no one has ever said biopsies are fun – but confident that the two spots would turn out to be nothing, and I respected the doctor for his professionalism in wanting to confirm this.

When I returned for the biopsies, however, my relaxed confidence quickly changed to irascibility and worse. First, it turned out they were going to do the more invasive needle biopsy, not the less invasive aspiration biopsy I was mentally prepared for. Then, the biopsy was begun by a technician who did not like any of my sensible questions. The room was cold, the gel was cold, and when I asked if I could have an extra blanket, I was treated like a nuisance. (I did not get an extra blanket.) The technician was having trouble getting the needle to the place in question, and called in the kind doctor. The last straw was when the kind doctor morphed into the unkind doctor, who was no better at answering my questions or raising my comfort level than the technician. The doctor was finally able – I think – to draw cells from the first spot, but by this time we were all very tired of one another, to say the least.

Before starting on the second spot, the doctor asked me if I’d like to think about it, and maybe finish the biopsy at another time. I think that was codespeak for “We can complete this - if you’re ready to shut up.” I said yes, let’s finish the biopsy at another time, which was codespeak for “I wouldn’t come back here if this were the last clinic on earth.”

Later I received several reminders to finish the biopsy, and then a bill for some $200 not covered by my insurance. I ignored both the reminders and the bill. I was prepared to pay the bill, but not until I'd had a chance to complain about the service. No one ever asked, so I never paid. I later ignored the letters from the collection agency, and I assume there is a black mark on my credit rating. (I am scrupulous about all my other bills.) My personal feeling is that it was very stupid of me not to get my biopsy completed, and I don’t recommend that anyone do what I did. I was 95% certain that the biopsy was triggered by nothing more dangerous than cystitis, but even a 5% risk of cancer is too high to leave unchecked. On the other hand, doctors and technicians should also be aware that their social treatment of their patients is as important as the medical treatment they give.

(Jean says: Valerie has cracked the code! Medical professionals need to recognize the direct impact their attitude - and their personal interactions -- have on patient compliance. We are more than a name and medical ID number. Like lab rats, we respond most positively to attention and affection - and, of course, treats.)

Fast forward to 2010. When my new doctor asked me in April for the date of my last mammogram, I was shocked to realize it was as long as three years ago, and agreed to be tested. With visions of the 2007 fiasco dancing in my head, I sent out a blast e mail to all my middle aged lady friends asking for recommendations for a good place to get a mammography, and received one that stood out for its lavish praise. My friend told me that given my history I should request both a mammogram and a sonogram, and also assured me that I would love the staff of the facility she uses.

I took the first available appointment – in June – and started calling previous doctors and facilities to find my old films. When all of them told me I had already collected them in 2007, I realized they were at the facility I had left in mid-biopsy. I called, and they confirmed that they had my films. I expected them to remind me that I had an unpaid bill, and that I could have my films when I paid my bill. I was prepared to do that, but to my surprise, they made no mention of the bill. I suggested a date and time when I would pick up the films, and was told they would be ready for me. When I picked them up, I had the feeling all eyes were on me: “This is the lady who didn’t pay her bill, but has the nerve to ask for her films”, they seemed to be saying. I never forget to feel guilty (even when I’m not).

(Jean says: Doesn't Valerie have such a vivid imagination? It's part of her charm.)

Remembering my 2007 experience made me decide to remain caffeine-free for the two months until the mammogram. I didn’t want cloudy results to lead to another biopsy, but I also remembered the sheer agony of having swollen breasts clamped for what seemed like forever in that awful gizmo. This is another of those instances that make you say “Why is it they can get a man to the moon, but they can’t….” etc. Another thing I would have done - if I could have - was work on decalcifying my breasts, but there's no information on that. I've raised my intake of water, in hopes it might flush the calcifications out, and lowered my intake of other fluids, to give my body less filtering work to do, but I have no idea if there's any value to that outside the psychological reward I get for doing something that seems healthy.

I’m delighted to report that my experience at the facility recommended to me was as professional and angst-free as my friend told me it would be. I was seen exactly on time for my mammogram, and was seen thirty minutes later for the sonogram that was scheduled for an hour later. Thinking about my recent foot surgery, the thought of being that person who gets stuck in the mammogram device when the electricity goes off, and having to stand forever on my feet while the staff figured out how to unclamp me, filled me with dread. I pleaded with the technician – wasn’t there a way I could do this sitting down? The woman said no, but with empathy. She promised the whole thing would take less than two minutes, and she was as good as her word. Before I’d even left the facility, I was given a clean bill of health, and my test results were forwarded to my gp and my gynecologist. The receptionist asked if I would like them to keep my films. That seemed like a good idea to me. I’ll probably want to go back there.

(Jean says: Again with the electrical blackout fantasy? I may never make my appointment if I continue to dwell on such images.)

When I left the facility, I celebrated by having a cup of coffee.

(Jean says: Hallelujah! I love caffeine in all its incarnations. When Valerie swore off coffee weeks ago, I felt so guilty indulging in one of the few vices I have left. Mind you, I didn't stop drinking lattes and cappuccinos while in her presence, I just felt guilty!)


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cool Daddy-O

Jean says: Happy Father's Day! I wanted to take this opportunity to remember my father.
His first name was John and his middle name was William, so he was "John Dubbya." My dad was one cool cat. Tall (6'3"), handsome (straight, jet black hair and grey eyes) with matinee idol good looks and a dry sense of humor, he was a hell of a guy. Here he is, looking dapper in his college photo. He was a track star at the Univerity of Idaho in Moscow and a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. I have his gold track letter "I" on a watch chain and his massive Sigma Chi ring with its carved agate Greek warrior's head. (Regular readers know what a pack rat I am.)

He was a farm boy, born in Rosalia, Washington, in the eastern part of the state - over the mountain range from Seattle, near the Idaho border. Here he is with his parents, his older sister Melissa (Aunt Missy) and his younger brother Robert (Uncle Bob) in the tricycle and, of course, the family cat. He also had a small Sheltie collie at about this time. He was a big animal lover. When my brother John and I were little, my parents got us a kitten (Clancy) and a small Sheltie collie mix (Jonesy). They were the best Christmas presents we ever got. Although Jonesy succumbed to kidney failure at age 16, Clancy lived to be 24 years old! When I left for college each fall, I remember my dad telling me to be sure to say goodby to Clancy since she probably wouldn't be there one of the times when I got home. Needless to say, she was around after I'd graduated college, went to grad school, and had moved to New York.

Here's my dad's high school photo. He's doing his best Scarlett Johansen imitation! He spent his summers and holidays working on the farm. And, in that part of the country, kids regularly skipped school at harvest time, in order to bring in the crops. I have his carved white gold Illinois wrist watch, simply engraved on the back: "John June 1932". (I also have the yellow gold Elgin he wore in the 1950s through the 1970s.)

My grandparents owned wheat farms and my dad and Uncle Bob helped plant and harvest wheat, barley, peas and hops. Here's a picture of my dad (right) and Uncle Bob on seed bags out in the rolling fields. My dad was in college at the time and Bob was in high school.

This shot captures Dad's goofy side. He kept an old cigar box in the bottom drawer of his dresser that held all kinds of neat stuff, including three rattlesnake tails from snakes that had been killed on the farm. ( I have also kept the rattles.) The farms were located in Colfax and Whitman counties in what is known as the Palouse Prarie, which was bordered by the forests of northern Idaho and the Snake River to the south, bisected by the Palouse River. Steptoe Butte is the highest point and dominates the landscape. It was named after Colonel E.J. Steptoe, a Civil War hero who came west after the war and lost a battle to the local Indians.

Here's my dad and my Aunt Missy. My older brother John and I each inherited one of the wheat farms in Washington state, while my younger brother inherited my parents' house in Maryland. Because both my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Missy moved to California, I didn't really know them very well growing up.

Although he was a Navy fighter pilot in WWII, he never spoke about the war. It was only after his death in 1987 that we learned why. His brother, our Uncle Bob, disclosed to my younger brother that because my dad had been assigned to fly an admiral somewhere, he did not accompany the rest of his squadron on what turned out to be a fatal mission. I cannot fathom my father's emotions at losing his comrades and at being spared their fate.

After his discharge, he relocated to Washington, D.C. to work for the Navy Department as a civilian, a naval engineer. It was there that he met my mother, who was working for the Government Accounting Office. Mom had been a school teacher in her hometown in Pennsylvania, but had moved to D.C. after her fiance was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. My dad worked on the development of sonar and eventually worked on rockets like the Nike and Tomahawk missiles.

Here's a picture of my dad with my older brother John, both looking quite debonaire. To differentiate the two and avoid confusion, my mother called my dad John and my brother "Johnny." (I was "Jeannie" and my younger brother was "Mikey".) My dad was a straight-forward, plain-talking Gary Cooper kind of guy, as were so many western men. He didn't smoke and rarely drank. He was a great driver. He was also the most honest man I've ever met. The best memories I have of my dad was when he'd read stories to me and my brothers. He could even make comic books hilariously entertaining. He'd stretch out on my parents' bed and we'd lie down, lined up on either side of him. My brothers and I were always jockeying for position since, with three of us, no one wanted to be "odd man out". It was a miracle that my brothers and I survived to adulthood. As my mother would say we "fought like cats and dogs". When we were particularly exasperating, my mother would warn: "Wait till your father gets home." What a joke. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was deal with unruly kids. So, it was sort of an unspoken agreement between him and us to just pretend we'd been sternly reprimanded. He was definitely not the disciplinarian in the house. Heck, I even had a long red and white flannel nightgown that said "You're the apple of my eye."

My dad went back to Washington periodically to check on the farms, even after my grandparents moved to California. Here he is with one of his young cousins. Whenever he hoisted me up on his shoulder that way, I remember thinking how incredibly high off the ground it seemed. I always felt safe with my dad. He was solid as a rock and dependable. He was always there for me, in grade school, high school, college, and long after. While my mother could sometimes be emotional and moody, he was always even-tempered and smiling, quick to laugh. Although he was a funny guy, he was a terrible joke-teller. I remember when he taught me to ride a two-wheeled bike, he said training wheels were for babies. He'd hold the bike while I got on, give it a push and then run like hell to keep up with me and catch me when I'd start to fall. He taught me to throw a ball and was very proud when I made shortstop on St. Bernadette's girls' softball team and won the CYO championship. (I also still have that trophy.) Even though he wasn't Catholic, he drove us all to church every Sunday, was a scout master, coached softball and helped run the Christmas tree sales. In between, he fixed the car, built a stone wall in the back yard, made my mother a cedar closet and finished the basement.

Here's a picture of my Uncle Bob, Aunt Missy and Dad and one of their uncles. As you can see, height runs in the men of the family. Although my mother was only 5'5" and I'm only 5'4", both of my brothers are over 6' 2". They inherited my dad's good looks. And I look (and am) so much like my mother, it's scary.

After JFK was shot, my dad took me and my brothers to the Capitol to see his body lying in state. People were lined up for blocks in the cold. He parked the car in a garage under the Senate side of the building and when we got off the elevator, because the Marine honor guards thought we were some kind of VIPs, they just let us in line about 20 feet before the casket. Dad had this sheepish look like "Puhleeeze, kids, just keep your mouths shut and we'll get through this." He was so embarassed and I was just pleased as punch. It was a night and an experience I will never forget.

At some point, my dad became an aeronautical engineer and, because of his rocket experience, left the Navy to work at NASA with Werner von Braun in Huntsville, Alabama on the Apollo program. Needless to say, the phrase "It doesn't take a rocket scientist" took on a whole new meaning in our household. We drove that joke into the ground! After about 5 years, after the successful moon shot, he went back to work for the Navy. And, ever so briefly, after I graduated from college and was looking for a teaching job, I took the civil service exam and got a job at NASA in Washington, D.C. working for Rocco Petrone, in the Apollo program. It was really weird how many people, upon finding out that I was "John Dubya's daughter", would go out of their way to tell me how I needed to know what a great a guy he was and describe exactly how he had personally helped or influenced them. It provided a very interesting window on my father's life in the outside world.

At my college graduation, I remember one of my classmates coming into the ladies' room and asking "Is that your father? He looks just like a move star." That remark drew loud guffaws from one of the stalls (from my mother). He was healthy as a horse and rarely sick, so it was a shock when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1980. When my husband and I got married in 1986, we had the ceremony and small reception in my parents' house so my dad could be there, since he was no longer mobile. My girlfriends Quynn and Linda were my bridesmaids and my brothers were best men. My husband and I then had a wedding reception in New York the following week for our friends and my husband's side of the family. My brothers and my mother and her bridge club (dubbed "The Golden Girls" by my friends) and Quynn and Linda came to the Big Apple for the occasion. Linda took this picture of my dad just before his diagnosis. After a long illness, my dad developed pneumonia, most likely from aspirating food, and eventually died in March of 1987. Both my Aunt Missy and Uncle Bob have since died. Both had Parkinson's.

I thank you for indulging me and my reminicences. And wish a Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there.

Valerie says:

Just a Bit About My Dad

Since I monopolized the Mother's Day column in May, I'll keep my Father's Day tribute brief (is that possible?), and give my father his due in a future post. Today, I'll just attach two photos.

People often comment that they find it hard to think of their parents as three dimensional individuals who had full, happy, meaningful lives before the arrival of their children. This photo has that effect on me. I think it dates back to about 1950, predating me. During my lifetime, I simply thought of my parents as sturdy, straightforward, goodhearted people with a strong work ethic. I don't know anything about the circumstances behind the photo, but both of them look as though they spent the day on a glamorous movie set working as extras in a film starring Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth, and were allowed to keep the costumes. I know who they are, but still I want to ask 'Who ARE they?' And of course I'm glad to see that whoever they were, they looked like they were having a good time. (Hey, did I inherit my love of hats from my father?)

I've chosen this photo because it shows off my father's full head of nattily styled gray hair. Once it had been prematurely gray, but when this photo was taken it was 'on time' gray. My mother was very taken with my father's hair style, and I remember that even at a very young age, when I had no idea how to judge a man's looks, I too thought my father's hair very appealing.

So you can imagine our shock and devastation, one very hot summer, when my father suddenly had it all cut off in favor of a crew cut. If you look at the movies of the time, when military themes predominated, even suave sophisticated Glenn Ford traded in his pompadour for a crew cut and his double breasted suit for a uniform. It was suddenly the manly thing to do. To my mother's chagrin, he kept that haircut for decades.

Later in his life my father, like Jean's, succumbed to parkinsonism, complicated by a series of strokes, and slowly lost the ability to keep up his fastidious grooming regimen. My mother became his caretaker, and for the most part she was a good and dutiful wife. But in one way she defied him: she got rid of that crew cut. When he died, at the age of 83, although he'd lost some of the volume of his salad days, he had a full head of hair.

* * * * * *

The Flip Side of Father's Day

Yesterday, while riding a crowded bus, I saw a handsome father get on with his cute young daughter. The little girl, maybe 9, walked to the back of the bus, while the father stopped in the middle. He called to her three times, and when at last he got her attention, he wordlessly made a sweeping arc with his eyes and his chin, and pointed more or less to his shoulder. Clearly he meant 'come here'. It was none of my business, but I was offended by his lack of warmth, particularly the day before Father's Day. Couldn't he have said 'Please come here', or 'Let's stand here', or 'Come back'?

The little girl soon found a seat, but the father had to stand for a while. He had an iPod, and two ear buds in his ears, and later also pulled out a cell phone and reviewed that, completely ignoring his daughter. Finally, a seat became available beside her, and the daughter happily called to her father. He was looking away, and neither heard nor saw her, so she had to call him several times. When he turned around, he saw her holding the seat for him, but he ignored her thoughtful gesture. Poor little girl, I thought - so few things a 9 year old can do for her father. She's found one, and tries to show that she's a good daughter. But instead of saying thank you and sitting, he acts as if she hasn't done anything at all. He almost acts as if she isn't even there.

Eventually, the father DID sit down, and kissed his little girl on the head, which put him back in my good books.

This is not the kind of blog that fathers read, but I have to say it even if it only goes out into the ether: Fathers, put down your iPods and your iPhones while your kids are around. Let them know where your priorities are. Enjoy your kids now. Your iPod and iPhone will still be there while your kids are asleep, AND they'll still be there 20 years from now when your kids are grown and gone. Love your kids now. Love your things later.

What Do Readers Want?

This week we had first time readers from Guatemala, Korea, Taiwan and Uganda. Welcome all!

Sometimes readers are looking for us (thanks, readers!) or the things that interest us, and sometimes they find us utterly by accident. This week one of our readers found us while googling IDIOSYNCRATIC FIT. I'd never heard of that, so I googled it too.

One of the places it's explained is in a dissertation entitled How to Attract Customers by Giving Them the Short End of the Stick, written by a doctoral candidate in business management. (And idiosyncratic fit is not all of it - there is also idiosyncratic fit heuristic. Raise your hand if you have ever even seen that word before. Notice I am not raising my hand.) The theory looks like it's adapted from the Bernie Madoff school of thought.

This is depressing. It's one thing to get the short end of the stick, to know you're getting the short end of the stick and to resign yourself to getting it probably every day in every aspect of your life. It's another to see in black and white that people are actually paid to conduct studies devoted to giving customers the short end of the stick - and getting them to like it.

Well, everyone needs a job, and not everyone can be something useful like a fireman or a marine biologist, I guess.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Play with Your Clothes: Is My Basket on Crooked?

Valerie says: Jean is up in Montreal as I write this. She is watching men zoom round and round in circles as fast as they can. It's beyond me why she has to go up to Montreal to see the same thing that takes place in thousands of offices right here in New York City (or Washington DC, where all the best runners in circles have gathered for the serious competition). The important thing, however, is that in her absence, she has left me in charge of the blog.

Not so long ago, Jean and I received an invitation to a warehouse sale - about two weeks long - at one of our favorite second hand boutiques. Unfortunately, because we both have day jobs, we couldn't take advantage until close to the end of the first week. The announcement swore that new items would be added daily, but one always has one's doubts, and when we finally arrived, we were both hard pressed to find a Really Truly Fabulous Thing that we couldn't do without.

I DID come away with this very lovely red vegetable fiber basket with striking black diamonds. I was quite happy with it, but I've had one other vegetable fiber basket, and without my realizing it, the fiber of that basket, which I slung over my right shoulder, slowly but methodically wore a hole on the right flank of a favorite vintage wool jacket of mine. Having learned my lesson, I knew I'd never use this basket the way it was intended. I struggled, even while paying for it, to think of a good use for it. The texture, design and price were impossible to resist, but I was going to have to assuage my puritanical practical side.

Jean and I popped into a bar for a post-purchase wee drinkie. In the middle of our chat, I suddenly pulled the basket out of its shopping bag and placed it, straps and all, on my head. Jean was not amused, and said "Not everything is a hat, Valerie." How right she is. I was able to turn the Guggenheim Museum into a hat (see our September posting), but do not feel I'm up to the challenge presented by, say, the Chrysler Building. Nevertheless, I had my suspicions about this basket.

The next night, I spent about an hour with a box cutter, gingerly slicing away all the tiny vegetable fiber knots that bound the straps to the basket, and put the basket on my head. It was terribly tall, and suggested someone trying to hide a papaya underneath, but I was not deterred. The fiber is very supple, and I was able to manipulate it into a Sukarno-like hat. This is what it looks like. (You may have seen it in a previous posting we did.)

This past Friday, for reasons that are not at all interesting, I bought a new camera, and because it has a video function, it seemed I should make a video - since (as the old saying goes) a video is worth a thousand words - showing how to turn a basket into a hat. If I were twelve years old, I would have had the video up on line in fifteen minutes, but as I'm four times the age of a twelve year old, it took me four times as long. I did not have time to teach myself how to edit, so although there's a timer delay that allows me to start filming when I'm ready, you'll see that there is no wonderful gadget to allow me to turn off the camera when I'm done. So I have to show myself walking off screen. Oh well. Steven Spielberg made home movies for years before graduating to the big time. For your viewing pleasure, here's how to turn a basket into a hat in twenty seconds. (This link is included for people like me, whose ancient computers cannot see the Youtube attachment directly on the blog, and have to take the extra step.)

To be fair, with reference to my above-stated anxieties about the Chrysler Building, some are more than up to the task of rendering it in millinery form. Here, William van Alen makes it work for him in 1931. On a completely different note (and way at the opposite end of the bodily spectrum), since we have often blogged about our love of shoes, click here to read National Geographic’s article about the recent discovery of the world’s oldest (5500 years old) leather shoe. A very special welcome to our first visitor from exotic Zanzibar, the stuff of legend! (Opening photo of this year's Montreal Grand Prix from Google Images.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We Get Around

Valerie says: Jean is having second thoughts after rashly proclaiming herself shallow two weeks ago. To save our reputation (hers, really, and mine by association), she suggested that we post some absolutely marvelous photos we've taken over the past few months that show us doing things that appear cultured and sophisticated. Here, a portrait of our happy feet.

To start (in no particular order), one night we found ourselves in the 8th Avenue Line 14th Street Station, where we came across this compelling message:

You can see I'm rather perplexed by it.

At first, Jean is deep in thought, but moments later has a dangerous gleam in her eye.

We proceed to follow instructions.

Here, Jean tries out exposing herself, and, miraculously, gets two feet taller! (Jean says: "I came, I saw, I flashed.")

I giggle like a school girl. (Hilarious brass sculptures in these photos by Tom Otterness. They're all over the station.)

Before we part ways for the evening, Jean tries exposing herself one more time. She still hasn't got the naked part right, but she gets an A for effort, and for looking far more stylish than the average flasher.

Valerie is wearing: a fulled wool Parkhurst hat which came with a tag (now lost) showing how it can be worn five different ways; a fabulous silver pin by a Croatian artist (I have to find his card!) I met at the Bryant Park Christmas market; white DKNY blouse, Japanese red paper made into a tie, and held by two lipstick cases from Isabella Rosselini's late great Manifesto line of make-up; Final Home coat over a Tamotsu coat; Hiroko Koshino jacket; Huge Apple pants; Junichi Arai ties at the ankle (from MOMA); very comfortable sueded leather shoes by Cole Haan.

Jean is wearing: a Yeohlee coat (her Urban Nomad look), Maria D. Del Greco felt hat, Joan Rivers pearl Maltese cross hat pin, Kirsten Hawthorne pearl and metal cross pendant, Gucci glasses, black Italian leather tote bag and Dansko clogs.

Valerie says: In April, we went to see Andre Leon Talley at FIT. There was an AMAZING line to get in, not to mention a metal detector at the door, as ALT has apparently received threats due to his unabashed penchant for ostentatious furs. We made our entrance through the metal detectors (see Jean above - the big taupe-y rectangle on the left is the metal detector); ALT made an entrance no one could top, wearing a red silk robe with a train nearly as long as the one on Princess Di's wedding gown way back in 1981. It's hard to tell here, but he matched it with a splendiferously sequined black tee shirt.

(Jean says: The New York Times' Style section that day ran a picture of ALT and Whoopee Goldberg, deeming them both to be "Eminences." Both were dressed in long, full Ralph Rucci tunics and were seated at a tiny table at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute's gala. It was not a flattering photograph for either, so comparing them to cardinals and bishops was an exercise in deflection.)

Here we are that night on the FIT grounds. Like ALT, you'll note that I'm also wearing black and red.
(Jean says: It was enjoyable and amusing. ALT is a very entertaining speaker. While the audience at most FIT lectures is filled with students and young aspiring designers, ALT attracted a large number of older women quite knowledgeable about American and European fashion and Vogue magazine's current and previous editors. ALT was in a very chatty mood and was clearly enjoying himself, unilaterally extending his remarks beyond the allotted timeframe. He talked a great deal about his grandmother's influence on his life and his taste and one could sense the great affection he felt for her.)

Valerie is wearing: 1960s black and white straw hat with red and black feathers and a red velvet ribbon, labeled Leslie James and Whitsitt's La Jolla (Metropolitan Vintage Show); Mexican sterling and onyx necklace from a second hand store; red Anne Klein jacket (with a Bergdorf's label, but from the flea market many years ago); white sleeveless Express shirt; black Caravicci pants with white contrasting stitching; Chinese Laundry sneakers with small spike heels.

Jean is wearing: Ignatius hat, Michael Stars tee shirt, Ensemble sleeveless wrap top, Michiko Koshino skirt, charm necklace, vintage bakelite cuffs and rings.

After attending the Nic Rad opening that we so lovingly wrote about in a previous posting, Jean and I - and Jean's POSSLQ, who kindly took this photograph - walked the High Line.
And to prove that we're cultured, and not just pretty faces, below is a picture we took of the Frank Gehry building that lights up the High Line at night. Opinions on this building apparently run to the love/hate extremes. We love it.

Valerie is wearing: Jean's Mom's earrings; Strawberry black cotton knit and lycra shirt; Jones New York Country black wool pants; silver bracelet with trilobite fossils from Evolution; black plastic bracelet with polka dots from a second hand shop; gray leather 'gladiator' open toed ankle boots by Blowfish, also second hand.

Jean is wearing a vintage 1940's felt Hershey's kiss hat by Bellini Originals, Atrium black turtle neck, Zara black and white striped shawl top, Ronen Chen skirt, rows of black and white bakelite vintage bracelets, black and white striped socks and Dansko clogs.

Valerie says: I'm a VERY fussy eater. (Usually that just means I don't like processed foods. Thirty years ago, that would not have presented many problems; in 2010 it's a nearly insurmountable challenge.) So we mostly brunch at the same lovely restaurant, but on very rare occasions we scout out other locations. This day, we had an impromptu brunch at Barolo (nice, but alas no pancakes). It was one of the first nice days of the year, and we dressed accordingly.

Jean pointed out supportively that this is a nice photo of me because it shows my cleavage. I responded that in my youth I had little or no cleavage, and do not particularly welcome its sudden appearance now. I'm always amused by women who get breast implants. I am more pragmatic. If a magic genie offered me my choice of implant (which, being magical, would involve no cost, no risk, no pain and no recovery time), I'd opt for broader shoulders. It drives me nuts when my bra straps slip off these little shoulders. (And I could take all the pads out of my '80s jackets, updating them in seconds, and silencing the fashion police.) Despite my advanced age, in this photo I also have an unsightly acne breakout. (Does acne keep you youthful?) More on this bane in a later posting. (Emma Thompson appears rounded in the recent movie An Education. If it's her own natural padding on her once boyish frame I'll be thrilled; if it's padding added by a thoughtful costumer to add credibility to Thompson's role as a schoolmarm, I'll be crestfallen.) (Jean says: Valerie simply cannot take a compliment. I rest my case.)

Valerie is wearing: a red and white straw hat labeled Chapeau Creations by Ruth Kropveld and a white linen suit by Calvin Klein, Champion racer's back athletic (ha!) top (same stuff she wore to the Easter Parade); anonymous black polka dot sunglasses and vintage earrings (red plastic and tiny zebra mussel shells) from a long ago Metropolitan Vintage Show.

Jean is wearing: an Ignatius hat, Costume National jacket, vintage bakelite earrings and mah jong tile bracelet and vintage Southwestern wooden rosary necklace.

Jean says:
As good New Yorkers, we often take buses and subways to get to and from various events, openings and outings. Often, subway stations are just a means to an end. Sometimes, however, they can be a subterranean destination in themselves. On April 17th, we found ourselves at the Essex St. stop on the J and M lines. I couldn't resist creating my own version of the circus trick of placing one's head in the tiger's mouth. (And we all know how well that went for Siegfried and Roy, don't we kiddies?)

The Essex Street stop on the J and M lines in the Lower East Side is located at the corner of Essex and Rivington Streets. Art work on the walls of the downtown station reflects the Essex Street Market located directly above. A local landmark, the market has been known for generations for its selection of fresh fish. The tiles capture the colors and textures of the scales of great fresh water fish. Each corner of the station holds a different scenic acquatic view. Although Valerie was strangely reticent on this particular afternoon to have her own photo taken, she did indulge my reverie. (Valerie explains: I was having a Bad Outfit Day, I think...)

Jean is wearing a black motorcycle jacket purchased in a West Village leather store circa 1993, Marithe and Francoise Girbaud cargo pants, Smart Wool zip-neck sweater, Classic Hardware for Tokyo Boy patent change purse, vintage bakelite black rings and red bracelet, Calvin Klein black plastic eyeglass chain.

Jean says:
On April 22, Valerie accompanied me to an art opening at Michael Mut Gallery on Avenue C in the East Village featuring three of Helene Bergson's fanciful collages. Helene, pictured on the left, and her partner Lorraine, are friends and fellow members of my block association. Here we are in pro forma East Village mufti -- solid black. Helene has accessorized her look with a Mexican skull (my personal favorite) necklace while Lorraine sported her new skunk-striped hair coloring.

Since it was one of the first warm nights of spring, the gallery was jammed. Here's Valerie navigating the crowd to survey the art work.

Jean is wearing a black Costume National zip front jacket, DKNY turtle neck, and vintage black bakelite claw-shaped earrings.

Valerie is wearing an old standard favorite. Spitalnick black and purple checked jacket; multicolored felt pins by Maria Boggiano (at MOMA); H&M purple camisole; Issey Miyake purple pants and Land's End blue mary janes.

Jean says:

On May 2nd, we fortified ourselves with breakfast at BBar before heading to Soho - Valerie in search of a baby present and I in search of a wedding present. Valerie is wearing my all-time favorite Ignatius hat. The coil actually moves and when it does, I hear an imaginary "sproing" in my head. Here I am, enjoying my latte and eyeing the tasty banana bread.

Here's Valerie as we make our way from the East Village into Soho. Do not try to adjust your reception, ladies and gentlemen. Valerie's Devo-esque glasses' lenses are purposely askew. Caution. Do not try this at home. She is a trained professional on a test track.

Later in the day, we stopped in Alessi to refuel at its cafe. (Yo. Word up. Their lattes are killer.) While waiting for our orders, we wandered around the shop. While I hopelessly looked for just the right wedding present, Valerie was most taken with one of the sales rep's v-shaped haircut, which he most generously allowed us to photograph. He confessed that his sister clips his hair into this geometric configuration. He uses masking tape for a guaranteed straight line.

Although Valerie successfully found and purchased an adorable baby gift, I was not so lucky and went home empty handed. Just before departing, we noticed the most fabulous trash bags ever. Who knew garbage could be so gorgeous? Valerie adds: The trash bags were from CITE, on Greene Street, designed by Adrian Kondratowicz. Can't TELL you how disappointed I was NOT to be able to buy the pink and black bags. All they had were pink with gold dots, which were not nearly as smashing. Pink and gold will look perfect in India; pink and black are right for New York (and Tokyo, and probably Paris and London).

Jean is wearing an Ignatius hat, black Ensemble sleeveless shawl top over an Ellen Tracy 3/4 sleeve poly tee shirt, Ronen Chen skirt, charm necklace, black bakelite cuff and rings, black resin alligator cuff by Angela Caputti, Calvin Klein black plastic glasses' chain and Moss Lipow glasses.

Valerie is also wearing an Ignatius hat with free-moving spiral; anonymous sunglasses; Calvin Klein white linen suit; white short sleeved linen shirt from Sym's; white nubuck shoes by Arche.

Valerie concludes: So you see - we're not so shallow after all. Jean was just having a Bad Hair Day when she wrote that. That day is over, and her hair is once again fabulous.

On a side note, I did an interview with Jessie Askinazi, who does a blog called Morning Passages. Jessie's out of our age demographic (that is, young enough to be our child), but we'd like to recommend that you look at her cool and edgy blog. The link below will take you directly to her e mail interview with me. Jessie asked some very thought-provoking questions. If you take off all the code at the end, and just go to, that will take you to her home page. Jean is also supposed to interview with Jessie, and we'll let you know when that happens.

Stay tuned, dear readers, for a future posting on the wonders of bakelite and the Hudson River Museum's erudite bakelite show, which closed today.

And finally, we had our first visitor from New Caledonia! Welcome, and do come back!