House Rules

April 19, 2012

Since I never go anywhere anymore, ever, I don’t have occasion to rent out my house here in the Napa Valley.  But my best friend has done so repeatedly, and I must say:  the post-rental walk-through is best performed under the influence of a bracing cocktail.

Renters who seem like normal human beings do the most abnormal things to other people’s property:  covering a stainless steel refrigerator with permanent stickers, making red wine in an upstairs bathroom and pouring it out the window – creating a red river down the side of the house, and barbecuing on the antique wood dining room table.  My friends with a beach house had all of the furniture from their living room dragged outside, presumably so that their renters could watch television al fresco, and returned to find the sofa stuck in a sand bar.

My own mother always seemed to rent to nice young girls who we would come to suspect were prostitutes, although they were always timely with the rent and never to my knowledge dragged the bed outdoors.  I’m assuming that prostitution is prohibited by our new local vacation rental ordinance, which is the subject of today’s column in the Star.

Legalizing long-banned short-term rentals is the city’s latest attempt to recapture some TOT (transient occupancy tax) revenue, which has been siphoned off by our friendlier neighbors.  But at this point, with city managers laying-off key staff and instituting tough budget cuts, perhaps they wouldn’t mind capturing a bit of TTOT (transient tart occupancy tax) as well.  Anybody ready to rent out their Napa Valley Villa by the hour?

Read House Rules in the Star…


Kiss The Columnist

April 18, 2012

Today is National Columnists Day, which is a holiday I am celebrating for the first time, having only recently joined the ranks of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.  The holiday is scheduled on April 18 to honor Ernie Pyle, a Stars and Stripes columnist whose writings about World War II were syndicated in hundreds of papers, and who was killed by machine gun fire near Okinawa on April 18, 1945.  I’m grateful that the holiday provides an opportunity to honor a writer who gave his life writing about troops in combat.  I’m also glad to be a columnist in small-town St. Helena, where people rarely shoot at me, although some members of the City Council may have been tempted from time to time.

I am always a bit dubious, I must confess, about holidays scheduled on the anniversary of the date someone died, as opposed to the day of their birth, their induction into the applicable Hall of Fame, or some other significant life achievement.  I was recently visited by a chirpy Jehovah’s Witness who knocked on my door far too early one morning just before Easter.  She managed to maneuver a pamphlet through the tiny crack I opened in the doorway (my dog being particularly suspicious of unsolicited daytime door-knockers), saying brightly:  “Hi!  I’d like to invite you to a party celebrating Jesus’ death!”   Now I understand why she said this, and respect the fact that different religions observe and celebrate different aspects of Good Friday differently, but I personally prefer celebrations of life events, and find them far less challenging than celebrations of death in terms of party decorations and desserts.

That said, Ernie Pyle’s life is surely worth celebrating on any day, although I understand him to have been a bit of a loner in later life with a rumored over-familiarity with alcohol.  Which is awkward, since the natural way to celebrate any holiday honoring writers would be to lay out a spread of free food and columnist-themed cocktails and just wait for the writers to swarm.  So how are we to celebrate National Columnists Day?  There is no Hallmark card for the holiday, no animated e-card cartoon of Andy Rooney and Art Buchwald dancing a jig, and no traditional high-caloric treat or pencil-themed gift section at Target to mark the occasion.

So here are a few suggestions for honoring the columnist in your life:

  1. do not hug the columnist, as this could prove dangerous
  2. give the columnist a brilliant idea for an upcoming column, and agree that the columnist may claim it as his or her own (which he or she will do anyway)
  3. agree to stop mentioning the time the columnist misspelled Michelle Obama’s name, or when the columnist completely missed the point of some event the columnist was covering due to an unscheduled nap taken by the columnist after pulling an all-nighter to meet a long-procrastinated deadline and
  4. call the columnist’s editor and tell him or her that the column is your sole reason for buying and reading the publication, and that your eager anticipation of each week’s column provides your sole reason for living at this point, having become recently depressed after attending celebrations of the death of Jesus and other persons
  5. Oh for Heaven’s sake, just buy the columnist a drink – I gotta think Ernie would approve.

by Laura Rafaty, April 18, 2012

I Won! But What?

April 8, 2012

I won!!! (I just don’t know quite what yet)
My scruffy little column for the Star has taken first, second or third place in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest for 2011, in the category of humor in publications with circulation under 50,000 (in my case, way under). I’ll let you know if I win, place or show when the results are announced in May!   Here’s the link if you want to see who and what I’m up against…

Animal Magnetism

April 5, 2012

I recently wished an otherwise affable friend an early “Happy Easter,” and received a chilly response.  “I hate Easter!” she exclaimed.  It seems that Easter is the one holiday where you have to do lots of work — dying and hiding eggs, buying baskets and filling them with candy, cooking the big brunch — yet you have absolutely no idea when the holiday occurs.  Is it March or April this year?  The last Sunday or the first?  “It always seems to sneak up on me!” my friend complained.  In this regard the holiday is much like my sneaky backyard rabbits, which are the subject of this week’s column.  They have invaded my garden just in time for me to wish you a Happy Easter!  It occurs on Sunday, April 8th this year, in case you’re wondering.