Harvard Schmarvard

Harvard University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Harvard University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I used to think that people who had degrees from Harvard had arrived into the elite upper echelon of higher education. Like most people who have seen Love Story, and Good Will Hunting, I pictured Harvard guys a certain way. Preppy, sophisticated, erudite and of course, rich.

Then I met my husband.

It’s not that the guy isn’t witty or smart–I married him, didn’t I? It’s just that he isn’t exactly any of those other things that I had previously associated with a Harvard education. People have a surprised reaction whenever they find out where Zak went to school. It is probably because he looks like more of a UC Santa Cruz kind of guy, or one of those kids in that new movie, Accepted, who invents their own college when they can’t get in anywhere else. People are either appalled, like my cousin Todd, who coughed up an entire six pack when he found out Zak went to Harvard; or impressed, like my friend Sienna, who immediately suggested she take us out to an expensive dinner so she could start sucking up to get her four-year-old son in.

I was actually impressed by Zak’s Harvard pedigree when we first met. That is until I realized that despite his English degree, he’s better schooled in the works of Stephen King than he is in those of F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that he would never deign to actually use any of those seven figure college connections to, oh say, try to get a frickin’ job.

Needless to say, we’ve developed a friendly collegiate rivalry over the years, though it’s not really much of a competition. My alma mater, UCLA, continues to stack up basketball and football championships while Harvard alumni rule the lesser worlds of politics and Nobel prizes. Clearly I come from the superior school.

Did I mention that with only a minor in English and a major in frat boys, I’ve read more classic literature than my husband, Mr. English Degree from Harvard, ever did? Or that MY college loans have been paid off for more than a decade? And that there’s never been an American president who went to UCLA?

Despite the clear superiority I feel in being a Bruin, I have to admit I took a little bit of pleasure in this week’s Time Magazine cover story, titled “Who Needs Harvard?” Especially when the next day’s news logged a defeat for Harvard in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, which rates Princeton over its Ivy League rival. That UCLA was ranked number 26 didn’t faze me a bit, as my husband gently pointed out. We Bruins know better than to put our faith in things like college rankings, unless they are from the NCAA.

While the U.S. News and World Report rankings take things like endowments into account, there’s more to a great college experience than sitting in a beautiful library. What about sitting in a library full of beautiful people? UCLA’s close proximity to Hollywood and Southern California’s year-round sunshine make for an exceptionally photogenic student body. Score one for UCLA.

Then there’s our superior five squirrel rating. According to the annual rankings published by Academic Squirrels of California and Beyond (www.gottshall.com/squirrels/campsq.htm) which uses the simple algorithm that the quality of an institution is directly related to the number of squirrels on its campus, the size, girth and health of UCLA’s squirrel population is second only to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. And that’s only because those squirrels have had 156 years of federal government protection. And they got extra squirrel points for having Rocky and Bullwinkle as their mascots. Harvard ranks a lowly three on the squirrel-o-meter because squirrels, like everything else, tend to freeze their nuts in those unpleasant east coast winters.

Score two more for UCLA, for furry friends and weather.

Then there’s the school pride factor. While proud Bruin alumni line up alongside busloads of tourists to purchase the latest in bear wear fashions, you’ll never spot a real Harvard grad in a Harvard sweatshirt. It’s like they are too cool to admit it or something. When I went with Zak to his 10-year college reunion, they gave us crimson hats that said “HR class of 1987,” like it was a secret code or something! What could possibly be so great about a school that people don’t want to admit they went to?

Finally, though, it all comes down to mascots. UCLA has the bruin. A bear. How cool is that? Harvard has crimson. A color. A color you have to have a degree from Harvard to identify. Crimson is the color a Harvard student’s nose turns when he’s out in the snow trying to cheer on his sorry excuse for a football team.

Harvard Schmarvard, indeed.

When Leslie’s not out in the sunshine, cheering on the Bruins, she can be reached at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 25, 2006.

Why Do Men Have Nipples

Why do Men Have Nipples? BookWhy? Because it’s an awfully catchy title.

The screaming titles in the window of Barnes & Noble caught my eye: “Why Do Men Have Nipples?” and its sequel, “Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?” by humorist Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg. Sure, “Dr. Billy” sounds like he should be playing with a plastic stethoscope, but I could forgive him his name if the books actually delivered the answers to these mysterious questions. After all, the obstetrician that delivered my son was Dr. Howie Mandel, and I’ve almost gotten over that one.

Did these books really have the answers to these long-pondered questions that had been taking up my valuable brain space for almost as long as, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” I decided to investigate.

Since the books are subtitled, respectively, “Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini” (nipples) and “More Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Whiskey Sour” (sleep), I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and ponder the imponderable in my quest for factoid fun.

The merlot seemed like a good choice, given my history of falling asleep after my third glass of just about anything resembling a martini and the fact that we had no whiskey in the house. Does anyone actually know how to make a whiskey sour anymore? It sounds like something Dudley Moore drank in “10.”

Like most college graduates, I had already spent countless drunken hours contemplating the mystery of why men have nipples, and unless I had missed a memo, knew that that answer was an unsatisfying, “nobody really knows.”

Just to be sure, I double-checked. According to the authors, while only females have mammary glands, we all start out in a similar way in the embryo. The embryo follows a female template until about six weeks, when the male sex chromosome kicks in. At that point males have already developed nipples.

It takes men six weeks to develop nipples, but at 40 years old, my husband still has to be reminded how to wipe the sink down properly after shaving and put the seat down after peeing? I’ve got a few ideas for Dr. Billy’s next title, like “Why Are Men Such Babies When They Get Sick?” and “Why Can’t Men Write Down a Phone Message When There are Notepads All Over the House?” and “Why Did You Say You Were Listening to Me When Clearly You Weren’t?”

Actually, Dr. Billy has an answer for that last one. He says it’s not that men listen less than women. Get this, it’s that they listen “differently.” This sounds suspiciously like not keeping score in T- Ball and pretending the kids won’t know the difference. However, according to Dr. Billy, “Men use one side of their brain whereas women use both sides. And when men hear women’s voices they hear those voices in different areas of the brain than women — they hear women’s voices in the same area of the brain they use to process complex musical sounds — so you can extrapolate the women’s voices are more complex. … And more difficult for us to listen to.”

So women use our whole brain to listen and men only use half a brain when they listen to women. And why did that chicken cross the road? Maybe he wasn’t listening when his wife asked for directions.

When she’s not pondering life’s eternal questions, Leslie can be reached at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 18, 2006.

The Not-So-Newlywed Game

Courtesy YouTube.com.

Courtesy YouTube.com.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m actually rather competitive. Especially when it comes to stupid things, like knowing the names of one-hit-wonder bands from the 1980s (of course YOU remember when “Der Kommissar” was in town, but I bet you couldn’t tell us that After the Fire was the band that brought him); being able to intuit who is on the phone every time it rings (my mom); and predicting with 99.7% accuracy the words that will come out of my husband’s mouth before he says them. Even if most of those words are, “um,” “well,” and “yeah,” you still have to admit that that is pretty impressive wifely knowledge.

So when my friends Colonel Dan and Lola did a victory lap around the Padaro Beach Grill to celebrate their recent domination of an Alaskan Cruise Ship Not-So-Newlywed Game Tournament, I must admit to feeling a bit envious. I wanted that first place gold-plated bottle of Cold Duck for my mantle.

Sure, their closest competition was a couple from Nantucket who only had one good ear and half a head of hair between the two of them. And sure, the third place bronzed beer can went to a couple that only knew a few words of English. But still, Dan and Lola had won an international Not-So-Newlywed Game competition.

I couldn’t help but wonder how Zak and I would have stacked up. I figured we knew each other at least as well as these hacks. After all, Lola was by herself half the time while Dan was out saving the world on some mission or other. Zak hardly ever left the house without me by his side. Most of the time I knew his thoughts before I let him have them. Surely we could kick their sorry little butts.

Luckily, Colonel Dan was eager to quiz us.

The first question was easy. “If your spouse were lost while driving in a foreign city, he/she would do what?”

“Not ask for directions,” I yelled eagerly, knowing I had aced that one.

“OK,” Dan said. “What if you were the one driving, Leslie?”

Zak and I both laughed. I refer you to my column where I made fun of my dad’s driving. My dad taught me to drive. Me, drive in foreign cities? Not in this lifetime.

Dan threw out a few more easy questions. What color are your spouse’s eyes? Boxers or briefs? Leno or Letterman? Dog or cat? Would you like fries with that?

I was starting to feel a little cocky when Lola mentioned that she and Dan had gotten a perfect score. How do you top that?

Lola asked the next question: “If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only be with one person, who wasn’t your spouse, who would it be?”

I weighed the possibilities. Would Einstein or Da Vinci be better able to build us a boat out of palm leaves and coconut shells? And more importantly, which of them was better suited to help me repopulate society? Hmmm…Then Zak piped up with “Brad Pitt” for me. Please. I like man candy just as much as the next girl, but I’m still angry about the whole Jennifer thing.

Dan interrupted my reverie. “Who would Zak want to be trapped with on a desert island?”

C’mon, we’re down a point. Got to regroup, focus. I know he’s moved on from Uma to Scarlett Johanssen, so I go with Scarlett.

He says, “Leonardo Da Vinci.”

Honey, I really didn’t mean to punch your arm so hard. You know how I get in competition.

Zak was still rubbing his bruise when Dan let us have one final bonus question that would allow us to tie the score with them. “Where’s the most unusual place you’ve ever made whoopee?”

I looked at my husband and giggled. We both knew the answer to this one. All we had to do was say the word and the Newlywed Game honors would be ours.

I looked deep into my husband’s eyes (still blue) and nodded, as he said, “Not in this lifetime.”

We’re Not-So-Newlywedded for a reason, after all. It’s all about how well you know your partner.

When she’s not singing “Tainted Love,” by Soft Cell, Leslie can be reached at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 11, 2006.

Reunion Reflections

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Perhaps you too have experienced the nausea brought on by the arrival of an invitation to a high school reunion. The angst-O-meter skyrockets, and your first impulse is to rip the thing into a billion little pieces (or in the case of my low budget reunion, immediately hit the email delete button). Your next instinct is to put yourself through a crash course of Life Improvement 101. Surely two weeks is enough time to get a PhD, lose 50 pounds and get my teeth whitened, right?

Apparently not. Especially when you use the first half of those two weeks to contemplate how different your life is now from when you were a teen, and the second half to go on a crying jag.

But here’s the thing — when you are a columnist, all of those nausea-inducing experiences have an upside: you can write about them, venting your amusement for the entire world to see.

I figured my high school reunion column would practically write itself. Just like high school, everyone would drink too much and stick to their own little social pods. The math nerds in one corner, the basketball team in another. The soc’s flitting from table to table with insincere hellos to one and all, while the theatre geeks pirouetted and flounced through the cafeteria. I figured the football players and cheerleaders would either be fat and puffy, or liposuctioned and botoxed beyond recognizability; and that short little kid making jokes in the back of geometry class would have grown into a six-foot-tall internet gazillionaire.

Like I said, the column would practically write itself. I knew exactly what my high school reunion would be like.

And then I went.

My first shocker was the size of my class. Had there been a nuclear explosion or discount tickets to Hawaii that no one had told me about? Had everyone missed the email? Somehow, out a class of almost 500 kids, fewer than 20 of us showed up. I run into more classmates on a typical Saturday at the Little League fields, so I know you’re out there, you cowards.

“Were you home-schooled, mommy?” asks my son.

Not exactly.

Please tell me that my classmates aren’t old enough to use Alzheimer’s or Senility as an excuse to forget about the reunion. We’re not that old yet.

Now in defense of the San Marcos Class of 1981, I will say that the reunion was originally scheduled for the previous weekend and then cancelled until someone stepped up and reserved a space at Tucker’s Grove. So it was kind of a free form, come if you feel like it, bring your own lunch, kind of event, rather than the cocktail party kind of shindigs we’ve had for the past two decades. The kind of painstakingly planned, overpriced parties that hundreds of people showed up for, like clockwork, every five years.

C’mon guys. We’ve got spirit … not so much.

The fact is, only one cheerleader showed up, and none of the jocks.

So what if you had a high school reunion and none of the usual suspects showed up? What if a bunch of people who weren’t even particularly friends with each other showed up instead? What would you talk about? Rather than dwelling on our pasts, which were only marginally shared, we talked mostly about the present. Instead of who’s dating who or who’s wearing what, the conversations were about global warming and world politics, mixed with talk about Trader Joe’s and the best summer camps, and of course, how expensive it is to live in Santa Barbara now and how much more overprotective we are of our kids these days–to a soundtrack of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water,” and the obligatory Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.”

Of course, we all secretly wondered what someone as young as our self was doing surrounded by all these old people.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Surely you must have better reunion stories to share with Leslie at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 4, 2006.