Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sept. 12

On September 12, 2001, Micah and I stayed in a suite in the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. It was huge, palatial. It had a marble bathroom bigger than my apartment at the time, with marble lions and gold-plated faucets pouring into the jacuzzi tub. The lobby, which bled seamlessly into a mall of high-end shops, had an eerily lit, faux-blue sky.

Neither of us has ever stayed at the Venetianor any other mega-resort thereeither before or since. For us, nothing ever had to stay in Vegas, because we simply never went there. No bachelor parties or girls weekends. No spur-of-the-moment, Vegas, baby, Vegas! road trips. Not even a Celine Dion concert or visit to the Guggenheim or ironic jaunt to the idyll of postmodern architecture.

We were there because a day earlier we had been in Sun Valley, Idaho, happily ensconced in my familys time-share condo, hiking and reading and watching deer walk by on the path above the river from where we were reading Levinas on the living room couch, when we got the call from my mother to turn on the television. Actually, to be accurate, when we got the call, we were asleep. We turned on the news after the planes hit but before the towers fell. After approximately twenty-four hours of watching, when airports were at a standstill and no plane was flying anywhere in North America, we decided to drive home to Los Angeles. We were numb anyway, we might as well be staring into the blankness of the Nevada desert. There were stretches there that we couldn't even get the radio. When we drove until we couldnt drive any more that day, the place we were in was Las Vegas.

Update on Detox

Since I last posted on my outrage at Kiehl's and other "beauty" products with dangerous and/or questionable ingredients, there has been a significant development: Johnson & Johnson, one of the world's largest purveyors of cosmetics and personal care products, has pledged to phase out all carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, as well as parabens and their ilk from their products. (Read the New York Times piece on this development here). Breast Cancer Action and the Environmental Working Group, in their Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, are using this victory to pressure other large corporations, such as L'Oreal (which owns Kiehl's) to take similar steps. To participate in this campaign, see here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


In Todd Haynes’s eerie film Safe (1995), Julianne Moore begins as a 1980s housewife ensconsced in the suburban dreamhouse—awash in saccarine hues of turquoise and pink. She develops a mysterious illness, gradually becoming ever more allergic and ever more intolerant of the environment around her—from her hairspray to her overstuffed couch—until she ends the movie living in quasi-isolation in the New Mexico desert.

I was reminded of this movie—or really, of this feeling of impinging horror, a sense that everything around you is toxic—this week as I put my home through a detox regime. Long ago, I retired my microwave and got rid of all my plastic food-storage containers, with the well-publicized campaign against Bisphenol-A or BPA, which was a staple component of tupperware and baby bottles until a few years ago. I knew then that BPA was an endocrine disruptor—basically, that it messes with your hormones—but here’s a zinger for you: it’s not that we just recently discovered this as a secondary effect, BPA was developed in the 1930s as a synthetic estrogen to prevent miscarriages in women! How it wound up as an additive to plastic products is beyond me.

What set off my more recent round of purging was this: parabens. Other estrogen-mimicking compounds that are added as preservatives to personal care products. To be specific, I went down to my (previously) favorite skin-care company, Kiehl’s, to get some face cream for my chemo-whipped cheeks, only to discover that this product—and everything I have been buying from them for years, including products from shower gel to sunscreen to lip balm—is chock full of parabens. In recent studies, parabens have been detected in 99% of all breast cancer tumors. That it is present is not the same as saying it is causive, but clearly there is a problem here! The manager of Kiehl’s tried to feed me a line about how their stuff is FDA approved, which is a complete lie, since personal care products are neither food nor drugs and the entire cosmetics industry is completely unregulated—which means anything goes. And the high-end cosmetics lines are some of the worst offenders.