Sunday, May 29, 2005

We'll Miss You Ernest T.

I knew this day would come, but I didn't want to face it. Howard Morris is dead. He was crazy Ernest T. Bass on the "The Andy Griffith" show and gave one of the most fearless performances I've ever seen. In only 5 episodes, he created an indelible persona as tough and wiry as an overcooked chicken leg. If you want to know more about how "Howie" came up with this classic nutcase, you gotta go to the Ernest T. web site…it's precious insight from an actor who appeared goofy on the outside but who took his work very seriously.

I didn't realize how great he was until I watched some reruns of "Your Show of Shows" and there he was: as the German general's assistant, a member of the spoofed 1950s musical group "The Haircuts", as a stuffed suit board member acting shocked at Sid Caesar's outrageous antics. He could do it all and underneath his performances were sparks of madness and a really nice guy.

As a cartoon fan, I heard his voice in lots of commercials, "The Jetsons" and "The Archie Show." Even Qantas Airlines is paying tribute to Howard this week. He was the voice of the koala bear who hated Qantas for bringing all the tourists to Australia.

I think everybody has one or two performers in their lifetime who they become curious about. Although I never wrote Howard Morris for an autograph or attended an Andy Griffith Show reunion, I continuously sought out other Ernest T. fans and I regularly checked the internet to see what he had done lately. In the meantime, my mom and I could always crack each other up doing Ernest T. imitations.

I can't really add anything interesting to the obituaries and tributes that have already been written. Except I have to say that the fact that he was married and divorced FIVE TIMES says a lot about his tenacity when it came to women and romance. He was a chameleon who started in show biz early, worked hard and achieved popular success. He showed flashes of brilliance and I'm just really glad Howard Morris was in this world. And I'm equally sorry he's gone. Thank goodness for reruns and sweet memories.

Washington Post obituary

San Jose Mercury News obituary

Keep Your Hands Off My Ovaries!

What the hell happened to the women's movement? Jesus, every time I turn around, there's a white male telling me what to do with my body OR making sure I stay in my place. What is this? 1959? I swear, the 21st century is starting to sound like the "end of days" for womens' rights: appointment of right wing judges, erosion of abortion rights, denial of prescriptions for birth control, women voting for George Bush. Who needs to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming over the hill when you hear the President of Harvard questioning women's aptitude for math and science? Where have you gone, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem?

The male heirarchy that told us women belonged at home have been replaced by demogogues calling themselves "Pharmacists for Life" who refuse to dispense birth control (it took a lawsuit in Washington state for contraceptives to be covered by medical insurance plans -- years after Viagra had been allowed). Or they take the form of a Bush appointee to the FDA who, while repeatedly denying approval of the Plan B pill which would prevent unwanted pregnancies the morning after sex, says God told him to sodomize his wife for years without her consent. And the rogue's gallery of legislators who proudly posed together at the signing of the bill to ban "partial birth abortion" looked like a KKK lynch mob out of uniform. I have a hard and fast rule about creating public policy regarding women's bodies: unless you have a uterus, you don't have a goddamned thing to say about mine.

Decades after Margaret Sanger smuggled diaphragms to America from England in empty whiskey bottles, I wonder what she would say if she knew that in my hometown in Eastern Washington, women who need an abortion must travel at least 200 miles. Abortion may not be illegal but without access (bus fare, a car), what's the difference? Isn't justice delayed the same as justice denied, especially when it comes to terminating a pregnancy? Sanger devoted her life to educating women about their bodies and increasing their access to medical care. A woman's right to plan her own family was a fundamental one for Sanger, but the same male-dominated institutions who fought Sanger are still trying to control the lives of women -- in and out of the bedroom.

And where's the outrage? In the early 1960s, when women discovered that the high levels of hormone in the Pill could cause strokes, they stormed congressional hearings, walking directly up to the podiums and microphones of legislators and demanding respect and answers. Where are today's activist women who would unapologetically go nose to nose with a Congressional committee to demand full access to birth control and abortion on demand? The mean and polarizing debate over these issues has convinced us we should apologize for wanting to control our own bodies. My, how times have changed. In the early 1970s, when Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (God rest his soul) wrote the majority opinion legalizing abortion, his brief included research from the medical establishment that said legal abortion was good public health policy. Those reasonable voices have been replaced by wackos who murder doctors or who bomb clinics and hide for years in the woods with the support of the nearby community. My comic book fan friends would say this sounds like "Bizarro World" where the code states "us do opposite of all earthly things. Us hate beauty. Us love ugliness."

Even the language of the women's movement has been tainted. Women are likely to say they believe in women's equality but they won't use the term "feminist." Idiots like Rush Limbaugh have made us ashamed of using the term that empowered women for so long while twisting it into something evil: "feminazi." Such hateful rhetoric speaks more to a white male sense of impotence than genuine debate. Rather than run from such lunacy, women must reclaim their feminist label as a term to be proud of, now and throughout our history. I AM A PROUD FEMINIST. Make a sticker. Use a sharpie. A big fat one.

Maybe one of the reasons more women don't speak up for themselves is that their voices are muffled by the mainstream media. Someone who should know better -- Michael Kinsley, the editorial page editor of the L.A. Times and former editor of Slate magazine -- is shortchanging women's voices in his op-ed pages, featuring them only 20 percent of the time. And he's not alone. It's even worse at The Washington Post where only 10 percent of op-ed pieces are authored by women. And the only regular female voice in The New York Times is Maureen Dowd. She calls the NYT editorial writers "Murderer's Row." Considering the many points of view that are either stillborn or silenced before they can enter the pages of The Gray Lady, the title seems apt.

In her novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," author Margaret Atwood warned us that women's rights can only be maintained if we are vigilant about protecting them. We have to become our own Gloria Steinems and Betty Friedans. Generations of women have come of age without knowing what it's like to live without birth control, Title IX, and the Office of Civil Rights. I once interviewed a local community leader who fought the attempt to shut down abortion services in my hometown. She told me she was done working on this issue. "It's a young woman's fight now," she said. If there are plenty more where she came from, those of us 40-somethings and the youngsters following close behind better get busy. White males are lining up to return to a "good old days" that never really existed and, unless we raise our voices and our consciousnesses, we might get dragged down with them.

Facing Fat Isn't for Sissies

My battle with weight goes WAAAAAY back, starting with a fat childhood, ups and downs through adolescence and college, and eventually maintaining a normal weight for the past 15 years (although, as Dr. Phil would say, I did a lot of "white knuckle" dieting to maintain it). Lately, I've gained a lot of weight fast (see previous blog entry "Working the Night Shift") and boy, am I conflicted. Part of me wants to jump on this like a Master's Thesis: research it, study it, plan it, edit it, present it brilliantly, and emerge victorious. The other part of me wants to take a break from worrying about my size for a while and find satisfaction in something more "important." But can you really focus on something else when you feel so undeserving and disappointed inside? And is there anything more important than establishing a healthy relationship with your body?

Like most of life's challenges, fighting fat teaches you lessons about much more than the lard on your butt. It's not been fun to walk around with these extra pounds lately. It's like living in a padded shell with no hope. For a while, I got to feel "normal" and sometimes even superior because I could maintain a normal weight, but as the rest of the country gets fatter, I'm finding myself joining them. We're all getting older, slowing down, and eating more, and the solution to that equation is bigger bodies and buying your clothes in sizes that begin and end in "X".

Part of my successful weight loss was tied to bigger goals about life, career, and relationships and it came at a time when I had a "fire in my belly" (so to speak) to make something more out of myself. Now, a decade and a half later, I've accomplished quite a lot and that same desire isn't burning as hot. And to make things worse, my doctors don't seem too alarmed and my boyfriend loves my body! It's tough to tap into that internal drive that moves you toward a dream, especially when it's buried underneath too many layers of satisfaction, contentment, and indulgence.

So, I am once again carrying too many pounds around with me in the world and I am trying to figure out why I feel the need to bring them along. The additional pounds also come with burdensome thoughts that threaten to keep me hidden. Here are some demons I'm wrestling with now:

Fifteen Things About Being Fat

15. You get to eat anything you want (Duh-uh!)
14. M&Ms and ice cream are easy. Setting goals and working toward them is hard work.
13. You can blame any disappointment on your weight rather than the actual cause.
12. You don't have to worry about anyone noticing you when you enter a room.
11. As long as someone makes a larger size, you can find something to wear.
10. Any feeling can be covered up by a snack.
9. Your plans for the evening require no imagination -- or movement.
8. In today's society, there's always someone fatter than you.
7. Food is the perfect solution for boredom.
6. You can judge thin people as superficial and too obsessed with their
looks without actually knowing them.
5. So many scones, so little time.
4. Feeling too fat is a great excuse for missing a social event.
3. If people are nice to you, you can assume it's not because of your looks.
2. You don't have to worry about being tempted to cheat on your relationship.
1. As long as you fret about losing (or not losing) weight, you never have to focus
on a bigger goal like, say, fighting injustice, curing disease, or making
something more out of your life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Fabulous Mrs. Parker

There ain't a much more discouraging thing for a high school English teacher than to share a fabulous piece of literature with students, only to be met with stares, yawns, and befuddlement. Dirty jokes from Shakespeare, eternal truth from Homer, vicious social satire from Twain, all soaring over their heads like a private plane wandering in restricted air space. Talk about casting pearls before swine.

OK…to be fair, I didn’t fall in love with literature until my late 20s. I went to high school in the 70s and if my teacher didn't feel like teaching that day, we walked across the street to the park and wrote in our journals (wearing our daily uniform: jeans and moccasins). When I realized how much I missed, I went back to school and finally did "English" stuff like, you know, study a poem's structure and content from beginning to end, examine the symbols in a short story, read a novel all the way through. It blew my mind. And I wanted to be a teacher so I could help blow theirs, too. But there is a big gap between 17 and 28 and I quickly learned that I could lead them to water and if they decided to do a cannonball in it rather than drink, well, at least they got wet.

Upon being asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence,
Mrs. Parker responded,
"You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think."

So, all of this is a long damn way to tell you about Dorothy Parker. Even at the end of the 20th century, I had to stray from the plethora of male writers and find female voices to balance their perspectives. That's when I wandered into the fabulous Mrs. Parker. What a woman. When admiring "the best" in any field, it's too easy to overlook their humanity and place them atop an unreachable pedestal. But Dorothy Parker won't hear of it. Even the brilliance of her writing doesn't blind you to her frailty. Affairs with married men, heavy drinking, marriage(s) to a homosexual, multiple suicide attempts; she lived it all and she filled pages with it. If you think the 20s were always roaring, try reading "The Big Blonde" and find out what it really meant to be a woman in America then: dependent, distorted, and despairing. She suffered through the bullshit of Hollywood, was an unabashed leftist, opposed Nazism and Fascism, reported on the Spanish Civil War, and was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Toward the end of her life, she lived in hotels and carried little dogs around that crapped wherever they wanted and when she died, she left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. Now, THAT is an interesting life story.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smell awful;
You might as well live.

Her monologue, "The Waltz," depicts the efforts of the narrator to remain charming while she dances with a clod -- so I thought my high school juniors would love it. And some of them did -- a few chuckles here and there, even a guffaw on a good day. And I think at least the girls understood the efforts of a woman struggling to stay cheerful for a man while suffering on the inside. But no matter how hard we tried to get into the material, their life experience just didn't quite get them where they needed to be to enjoy the story, let alone the exquisite craft of her perfect prose. Let's face it…not many kids from a mid-sized Eastern Washington town often hear people talk like Dorothy Parker and her pals at the Algonquin Round Table. Until they hear more voices -- in theater, film, books, and life -- they won't truly fathom the exactness of her tone and wit. Hopefully, we shared that first whisper together.

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses

(I gotta add, it used to absolutely PISS me off when I would read in teacher magazines about fabulously successful lesson plans executed flawlessly by brilliant educators in classrooms full of incredibly observant children. I wasn't the best teacher in the world, but I wasn't the worst either, and sometimes the thing you want to turn them on to the most just falls flat. Period.)

Brevity is the soul of lingerie

Regardless of the mixed success of those years of teaching, I still remember them happily. Even now, when I get excited about a new writer or story, I run through the mental exercise of figuring out the best way to share it with students. Then I realize I don't have to do that anymore. I can just sit and enjoy the story or excitement of a new author. So, I stepped back in time when I recently ordered the works of the fabulous Mrs. Parker on audio CD for my commute. Aaaaaaahhhh…. It's a selfish joy to sit and listen and not worry about who else "gets" it. She's unbelievable: the subtlety and craft of her short story "The Game," theater criticism that sounds like it was written yesterday, her hilarious monologue, "A Little One." They are absolute magic. I hope that at least one of my former students will enjoy her one day like I do. In the meantime, there's not much better company than the fabulous Mrs. Parker -- whether you are curled up in big stuffed chair, listening to a car stereo, or sitting in a classroom.

Note: Mrs. Parker's collection of works is the 9th most popular in the Viking Portable Library Series.

On The Go books is sort of a "Net Flix" for audio CDs.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Urban Dweller's Diary

Most of my life has been spent in rural Eastern Washington where the pace is, well, a little on the slow side. Recently moved to the big city and absolutely LOVE it. Here's a little snapshot of the new life.

Showered, dressed, and headed off to work only to find the "Down" button for the elevator already pushed and no one in sight -- not a good sign. Took the stairs instead and passing through the lobby, noticed both the "Up" AND "Down" buttons were lit and the light above the elevator was on "10". Rushed out to my car, counting my blessings that I live on 4 and wondered how the little lady who lives on 6 is going to get her mail today.

Afternoon radio traffic reports so dismal, stopped at a bookstore for a cup of coffee. Bought two books:

"I'm Not the New Me" -- hilarious memoir of a woman with weight issues (manna from heaven).
"Nice Girls Don't Get Rich" -- good advice for IWM (Idiots With Money) like me.

I hate the thing I have become. You know those people who have their ear pasted to their cell phone while they drive? That was me tonight. Speed dialed the wrong friend and ended up talking forever, all the while having to squeeze in and around traffic with cell firmly stuck to my ear. I'm just happy no one flipped me off. Great to get caught up with my buddy, though!

Elevator working again but I was still on the phone and had to just wave to "Jen from upstairs." Whispered to say "hi" to her equally nice and fun husband, Bob. Greeted neighbor Dave (he's frigging brilliant) who was coming back from his favorite downtown restaurant. "Enjoyed an expensive meal," he said, "You have to spend your money somewhere or someone else will get it." He's the best. Loves red wine, books, and good movies. Ask him about "Psycho."

Got to our favorite pizza place for dinner and it was packed full of (very noisy!) Sonics fans (Key Arena is a couple of blocks away). The game started in 30 minutes, so we went to the used bookstore to kill time. Among our HAD TO GET books:

Short stories by Flannery O'Connor (our friend Mark suggested them)
Science fiction by H.P. Lovecraft (Tom's been wanting to read him forever)
"All About All About Eve" (Tom's been on a Bette Davis kick lately)
James Whale biography (again, Tom loves him)
Chick Lit book called "Weekend in Paris" or something like that (por moi)
Fifty-cent book entitled "Musicals" (Again, for me. See previous post about auditions)

The bookstore houses three cats and we can't have pets in our building, so we try to squeeze in as many head scratches and rubs as possible. The grey stripe was very lov-ey, the black one was sleeping, and the orange tabby is recovering, so we left him alone.

After dinner, ran to Bartell's Drugs to pick up the NEW Star Wars dark chocolate M&Ms (in both plain and peanut). Hope this isn't just temporary -- they are SO good. Zipped downstairs to Larry's Market and bought bananas and strawberries. Shlepped everything home while Tom walked funny. He said his pants were falling down. Offered to help. Not much enthusiasm.

Stopped to pick up beer and got to see Emma the sweet and friendly Corgi. She was visiting the mini-mart with her owner. LOVE HER! If Tom gets a male dog, he wants to name it "Mr. Bond" so he can say things like, "Sit down, Mr. Bond" and "Come here, Mr. Bond." Cracks me up!

Home in time to post a blog entry, watch "The Apprentice" finale (who cares who wins?), and hit the sack. Thank God the elevator is working again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Life Imitates Art

I've been trying to attend a certain "How to Audition for Musical Theater" workshop for three years now and I finally made it last night. The hosts were the artistic staff of Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theater, one of the producers of the Broadway mega-hit, "Hairspray."

For three hours, we all learned to look at auditions from the OTHER side of the table, but the lessons weren't limited to the audition process. Artistic Director David Armstrong had just as much to say about life as he did about try-outs. Here are some examples:

1) Don't dread an audition. Think of it as an opportunity to do something you love: to perform for an audience and show them what you can do.

It's a great metaphor for life. My ex used to HATE going to work. When I tried to describe to him how many people he helped every day in his job, he could only focus on the redundancy of it all. Frame your experience in a way that makes it irresistible. Then you can't wait to get up in the morning!

2) When you walk into the audition, assume everyone there wants you to succeed.

What a great life philosophy: everyone's on your side, everyone's rooting for you, and the world is a supportive, generous place. (I want to make an important note here: the workshop was led by three male musical theater directors and they were NOT feeding the theater stereotype of being bitchy, catty, and jealous. HAAAA-LAY-LOO-YAH!)

3) When the director writes on your resume while you are singing, assume he is noting how fantastic you are.

Assume the best about people. They might disappoint you later, but give them the benefit of the doubt. It always pays off.

4) When someone stops you in the middle of your song and asks you if you have anything else, assume it's because you did great on the first tune and they want to see how versatile you are.

Again, don't go to the "dark side." Instead of letting your assumptions define your experience, give yourself credit and show the world your best.

5) If you don't get a call-back, assume it's because they don’t have a role for you this year, but next year, it might be a whole different story.

This goes for all relationships: don't work too hard to be accepted or liked. Approach each one as if this is the first step in a long-term experience. Theater (like life) according to David Armstrong, depends a lot of "stick-to-it-ive-ness" and honing your skills and if you are committed, you'll be in it for the long haul. In other words, life is short, but it's also long and if you want to do it well, don't ever stop trying to do better, whether it's in a dance class, as a parent, or just being human.

I walked away a very happy customer. I'll pay just about anything to see a good show, but this was a real bargain. Our fifteen bucks bought us more than just audition tips, we got a healthy way to look at the world. What a deal!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Am I Gay?

Recently I had lunch with a high school buddy I hadn't seen in 15 years (15 YEARS!). She looked so great. I think we were both worried that we would have turned into homely middle-aged schlubs wearing spandex leggings, oversized sweatshirts, and hair that hadn't been cut or colored in a decade. Luckily, it didn't turn out that way.

As we were recounting every gossipy detail we had heard about other high school pals, she said she had heard some interesting things about me. Curious, of course, I asked for an example and she said, "That you're gay."

Instantly I thought, Are they kidding? Do they have any idea the humiliations I have suffered in order to be loved (or even just accepted) by a man? Would they like to know about the time my alcoholic boyfriend (of 5 1/2 years!) repeatedly screamed "Leave me alone!" while I sat in my car in the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot? Or shall I recount the years I struggled with bulimia? The Peace Corps assignment I gave up at the request of a man who, one month later, refused to have sex with me again (but still wanted to date)? Or the evil in-laws I endured just to remain in a marginal marriage for way too long? How about the dead-end affairs with married men? The loser boyfriends who cost me a pile of money? The ones who rejected me for their old girlfriends? The painful one-night stands both in and out of town? Its taken years for me to untangle myself from all the pretzel shapes I have assumed for a guy.

But plenty of lesbians could go "mano a mano" with me comparing dreadful man tales. What else could it be? OK, I had a mullet for awhile in the mid-1980s and I usually wear short hair, but that's not gay, that's just low maintenance. I have a tendency to be overweight but I don't particularly like trucks, softball, or Home Depot. Even though I have been "embracing my girly side" a lot lately, there are probably many lesbians who could say the same thing. So, what else?

Maybe it's because I don't really take a lot of shit. I count this as a major accomplishment after years of, well, taking too much shit. Twelve years of high school teaching gives you these skills, but the same number of years spent in local community theater honed that skill to a fine point. Does any woman who can stand up for herself HAVE to be gay.? I could introduce them to some gay women who HATE confrontation.

I better be honest -- with you and myself, I am a little gay. (If you don't believe me, look at my earlier entry about Nigella Lawson). There have been many times when I have entertained the idea of experimenting. In fact, during my 20s, I wondered if I was, indeed, gay. I once snuck a peek at a friend's journal and she was asking herself the same question. Personally, the peak of my lesbian career took place 20 years ago in a bathroom stall on Capitol Hill when I drunkenly scribbled a note on the wall for anyone interested in "trying something new." No one ever did. Or else they didn't call me if they did. When I sobered up, I spent a few nervous weeks worried they might.

You would have to be living in a sensory deprivation chamber NOT to notice how beautiful women are. We're like peacocks who adorn ourselves exquisitely and then show off our feathers. It's a lovely thing to behold. And if we spent more time looking at the reality of the bodies we all live in and less time envying the emaciated ones we shouldn't have, we might get a lot more healthy and less neurotic. The gorgeous curves and soft fleshy areas of women's bodies deserve admiration. Ask any guy -- they'll tell you. Or a painter. If we can all learn to appreciate the fullness or athleticism or leanness of our own bodies, we might also realize how much we ALL have to be proud of. I'm willing to admire the beauty of women. But I can't quite bring myself to have sex with them. Not now anyway.

So, the folks who told my friend I'm gay didn't get it exactly wrong or exactly right. I've never acted on my gay impulses, but that doesn't mean I don't have them. I'm glad I had them. They made me a more complete person. I feel a little sad for those (especially men) who are so bound by homophobia that they never let their minds and bodies consider what it's like on the other side of the fence -- even for a minute. Without giving full expression to all of our impulses, we choke an important part of ourselves and then we turn into Spokane mayor Jim West.

So I guess I'm coming out right here. Here on the internet for God and everyone to see. Yup. I'm a little gay. And I'm proud.

I better go tell my boyfriend.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I Don't FEEL Dumberer...

There's a new book out from an author named Steven Johnson that makes the case for popular culture making us SMARTER. Thus, nullifying all those old grumps who complain about "you kids and your new-fangled au-to-MO-beels."

I'm awfully glad to hear Stevens say this, because I think I am as addicted to television as any heroin addict is to their fix and I don't FEEL more stupid. I truly do have standards. I stopped watching "The West Wing" when Aaron Sorkin left because it stopped making me feel like a savvy Washington insider. I stopped watching "Six Feet Under" because the Psycho Bitch nymphomaniac was driving me nuts. After the second season of "Survivor, I said "sayonara". I mean, OK, I got it. And I started watching "24" finally because, well, because I like to cuddle next to my boyfriend on the couch.

As much as I hate to admit that my childhood favorite all-time sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was fairly undemanding of the viewer, it pales when Johnson compares it to the complex storytelling of "Hill Street Blues". It makes sense that as we become more visually literate and discerning, we will also become more demanding in our choices. Today's consumers of popular culture are just as different from the fans of "Pong" and "Welcome Back, Kotter" as radio listeners of the 30s were from the audiences of Charles Dickens and stereopticons.

An excerpt from Johnson's book was published a few weeks back in the New York Times Magazine and a review by Malcolm Gladwell ("Blink" and "The Tipping Point")is in The New Yorker. If you are looking for ammunion to prove that your brain is not, after all, turning to jelly, here's the book title: "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter." Enjoy with a Twinkie and bottle of Budweiser.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Book Notes

One of my favorite books right now is "Freakonomics" -- it's a brilliant spin on otherwise mundane topics. The KKK chapter alone is worth the price of the book. You don't have to be an economics nerd to enjoy it. Perfect at the gym or at bedtime...and there's even more AMAZING news! "Freakonomics" is featured on a blog!

You gotta check this out:

Another great read:
"Early Bird: A Memoir of Early Retirement" by Rodney Rothenberg. It's a hoot! He's a 28-year-old burnt out comedy writer who heads to South Florida to see what retirement is like. Priceless. Well, actually, it's about 16 bucks or so.

Breakdown Part 2: " Holy _____________!"

When last we left our heroine, she was parked off Exit 45, southbound on I-5 waiting for the AAA tow truck to come and save her from a steamy Friday afternoon traffic jam in which her brakes unexpectedly seized up, leaving her stranded.

Do NOT ask me where the calm that entered my body came from as I said goodbye and thank you to the Department of Transportation angels who pulled me out of traffic. Triple A told me since I was on the freeway, I would be a "priority" tow and I shouldn't have to wait more than an hour. Maybe I should give credit to the anti-depressants, but I prefer to pat myself on the back for figuring, hey, there's not a Goddamned thing I can do right now, so I might as pull out a book or my cell phone, sit back, and wait. There are a couple of ways I can get through the next hour: frazzled/pissed or relaxed/philosophical. I need no more drama in my life, so I chose the latter.

I started to feel a little sorry for myself when an hour had passed and I had seen a dozen tow trucks pass me by (that really hurt). Called Triple A back to light a fire under their asses and a twenty minutes later, I got some help.

The driver was named Don and he had tattoos all over everywhere, including his shaved head. He was very polite and got my car up on the big metal shelf behind the cab. As we headed home (the auto shop was long closed by then), Don and I got to talking. First cool thing: he loves his job. NO LIE! You hardly ever hear that from service people, let alone a guy who's on call 50 hours a week in addition to his regular work schedule. Second cool thing: he has 6 kids and loves them all. Third cool thing: Don could drive that truck through the center of a Top Pot Doughnut and not displace one sprinkle and we made it home in 20 minutes.

On the way, he told me about his passion for taking pictures of the wreckage he encounters. "I don't like the bloody stuff, " he said. "I usually wait until all the people have been cleared out." The night before, he was called out of bed at 2 a.m. to assist in removing a Mazda Miata that a drunk driver had driven up over the cement median. "I didn't even know you could do that, " he said. I suggested he find a way to display his pictures, start a web site or something. He said he had been thinking about it. Don's probably too busy to put it together, but I would LOVE to see his photos. As for his personal taste, Don prefers to browse He warned me there is "some pretty gross stuff there." He dropped off my car as carefully as you might unpack a glass unicorn and I wished him a good weekend. He's gotta get a web site.

I managed to stay distracted for the next two days and got the car towed to the auto shop first thing Monday morning. And you know what that meant? I got to take the bus to work! I LOVE to take the bus and if it weren't for my job requirements, I would have a monthly pass and know every route. Eventually I could become one of those goofy passengers who knows all the drivers and all the stops and gives advice to the neophyte riders.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received the call of doom. My service agent Glenn (to avoid hysterical ranting aimed at whoever picks up the phone, the dealer assigns you a personal agent with their own direct number) explained that somehow a petroleum-based substance got into my brake lines and reached a boiling point in the stop-and-go-traffic, causing my brakes to seize up. I tried to focus on how interesting it was that brake fluid doesn't usually reach a boiling point, but my mind kept screaming: AAAAAGH! WHO DID THIS? HOW MUCH WILL IT COST? GET TO THE POINT! When I explained to Glenn that his dealership might be responsible for this problem, he responded, "Well, you know, in situations like this, everyone wants to figure who's responsible…" That's right, Glenn, 'cuz it wasn't ME! The current estimate to replace all the rubber stuff in my brake parts (apparently, petroleum products and rubber are natural enemies in cars) would be $3000 and they were still looking. I clenched my fist and tried to figure out how long I could rent a car and take the bus for three grand.

The next day I went by the dealership to get a final estimate from Glenn and he greeted me with a Snapple bottle half full of dark brown liquid with a thin layer of light brown gunk on top. He seemed giddy to be showing me the very same liquid that caused all my problems. I thought it might belong on I got even more squeamish as he showed me lovely, easy-to-read schematic drawings of the parts to be replaced. Like this was going to lessen the nausea. Then, Glenn landed the final punch: they would have to replace a $1200 ABS component that they hoped wasn't contaminated, but it was, bringing the total to $4200. I literally said, "OK, I have to go now, because I have no idea what I am going to do," turned on my heel and left the dealership. I was totally speechless, thoughtless, aghast.

THE LAST USED CAR I PURCHASED COST $4000 AND I DROVE IT FOR 7 YEARS WITH NO MAJOR REPAIRS! How the fuck could I rationalize $4200 worth of repairs for this car (except that I still have 36 months left to pay on the new car loan). AAAAAAACH! This was my worst car nightmare.

So, I did what any self-respecting capitalist would do. I figured I would get the money somehow, authorized the repairs, and tried to disappear. When I woke up from my denial, I called a money guy for some advice and then I called my insurance company. Frankly, it just felt better to start some wheels rolling, whether they would lead somewhere or not. Turns out I had plenty of money in my 401K for a loan and I found a very helpful insurance adjuster who was going to do some investigating. HOT DAMN! I think I might have handled this situation. Just like a grown up! What do you know?

I've learned several things from this: 1) I really wish I could ride the bus to work 2) Budget Rental Cars have good deals for Costco and AAA members (be sure to mention BOTH discounts) 3) It's great to meet people who really like their jobs 4) Don needs a web site and 5) Sometimes things work out OK. I heard an interview with a WWII vet last week who said the war made the rest of his life so much easier because nothing would ever be as bad as that. I hate to compare my car disaster to WWII, but being stranded in the middle of the interstate during rush our traffic makes an outlandish repair bill seem a lot less horrible. A lot less.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Guy Walks Into A Bar...

I love to find out how couples met for the first time. It makes me pretty popular at parties. No matter how deadly boring the conversation might be, people light up like fireworks when you ask them about the big "bing" moment. Sometimes it's just like the song: "There were bells on the hill but I never heard them ringing….'til there was you." And sometimes it's slow and gradual like the bass line in a Barry White ballad. The best stories are a result of total fluke-y luck or some kind of surprise beginning (like they hated each other for a year before they hit the sack). No matter what, every story is different and usually highly entertaining, if not in content, at least in style.

I still feel a little chagrined at the fact that my beloved and I met at a bar. OK, it happened to be a bar in Washington D.C. while we were both on separate holiday vacations and we were within 10 minutes of totally missing each other, but meeting at a bar doesn't sound like a good start to a long-term relationship. Whenever I ask him how I got so lucky to find him, he replies, "you went out drinking!" It just sounds inauspicious. And a little meat-market-ish. That said, once you start asking people how they met, "at a bar" will be their most common response. I'm not kidding. And they usually cringe a little when they say it. See? It's not just me!

Theoretically, the ideal place to meet someone is church, right? Not so fast. I just watched a "48 Hours Mystery" on TV which told the story of Mr. Nice Guy, (MNG) who met his "perfect woman" at church and ended up in an ugly custody battle with a Psycho Bitch From Hell (PBH). PBH sent her brother and second husband to beat MNG within an inch of his life. The husband later tried to hire a hit man to kill MNG and his eventual death (at age 44) has all the signs of foul play. And…two of the most long-term eligible bachelors I know regularly attend church and never seem to meet the right woman. So, don’t be rushing out to join a congregation. No matter what denomination you belong to, you still need to be a good judge of character AND it helps if you actually WANT a long-term relationship. Besides, I don't think I have ever heard a couple tell me they met at church. Of course, that could be a measure of the company I keep, but still…

Advice-givers say if you are looking for a compatible partner, you should stop LOOKING and start participating in activities you love. The theory being you will find a better partner if you share the same interests. This has some merit even though the outside world can overshadow your shared passion. I met a potential partner in a Latin American History class, but once "real life" started, the damage created by his emotional politics far outweighed any military junta and we struggled for two loooooooong fucked-up years. I'm hoping for a better future for Rob and Amber once the reality TV cameras fade to black.

On the other hand, sharing an interest can also work out. I met my former husband while we were rehearsing for a music concert and we ended up crazy for each other. For 12 years, we managed to deflect the slings and arrows from the forces outside of our shared hobbies, but they eventually did too much damage. For the years we fended them off, though, it was great.

The WORST way to get together -- trust me when I say this -- is the long-distance hook-up. You know, when you meet someone out of town and you pledge to make it last. It will NEVER work. The good news is that it tends to end quickly once the thrill of physical contact is replaced by enormous phone bills and endless calls that burn up your ears when the cell phone overheats... Wait! What the hell? I can't really say this. My beloved and I enjoyed 6 months of yummy phone sex and great conversation before he moved cross-country to be with me. In fact, we have some friends who have been together for eight years and they were long-distance lovers for two of those. AND he didn't have a home telephone, so he had to use the office phone -- for ALL of their phone contact. That had to be awkward! See? I told you these stories are good! So...forget I said this. Long distance can totally work.

Bottom line, meeting someone at a bar is really no better or worse than any other method. Millions of college students can't be wrong. The ones in my neighborhood keep the tradition alive by lining up for hours in front of the hottest local singles scenes (karaoke, live grand piano duos). They have a couple of factors in their favor: volume and tradition. The sheer numbers involved naturally increase the probability of finding someone interesting and booze is a tried-and-true social lubricant. Nothing like a glass of something to a) give you something to do with your hands 2) provide a conversation topic and 3) boost your confidence while blurring your judgemental side.

If I were an advice columnist, I think I would tell people they need two things to be successful at meeting people: an open heart and common sense. Take them wherever you go and you're bound to end up with a great story to tell together at parties.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

You Say Genocide, We Say (And Do) . . . Nothing

It seems that since Condoleeza Rice stepped in as Secretary of State, the U.S. has gotten a little squeamish about using the term "genocide" when referring to what's going on in Darfur, Sudan in Africa. That's understandable when even our President parses the meaning of the word "is," but in a century where we named the unspeakable and promised "never again," our words are erasing the reality of what's happening in Africa.

The atrocities of the Nazis left the world speechless and Winston Churchill called it "a crime that has no name." But by 1944, it did. The term 'genocide' was coined from the Greek ("genos" meaning race or tribe) and a Latin suffix ("cide" meaning 'to kill') specifically to define the Jewish Holocaust. The distinction is in the motivation. Genocide is considered different than general warfare because it is aimed at the destruction of an entire nation or ethnic group (good luck convincing the Brits that the Germans wanted something else during the Blitz). That distinction was clarified at Nuremburg when German leaders were found guilty of crimes against humanity.

But even before WWII, genocide existed. The Turks almost got away with it during The Great War when they tried it on the Armenians. It was one of the best kept international secrets for years (and an inspiration for Hitler). But in the minds of today's American and UN diplomats, if you don't call call a thing what it is, it doesn't really exist. If it doesn't exist, you don't have to commit troops or support and it might all just go away. It worked in 1994 in Rwanda. U.S. State Department officials hemmed and hawed and hesitated to use the "G" word and after 100 days, the Hutus made sure that more than 800,000 Rwandans went away.

We're almost halfway there in Darfur: over the past two years, 300,000 Sudanese have been killed through slaughter and starvation by their own government. Women are being raped, families are being displaced, and entire villages of farmers are being razed. Now that we seem to have an active policy of using military force against governments who terrorize their own citizens, why don't we lead some forces into Sudan?

Meanwhile, the international community is doing its usual shuffle-step, passing the problem from one to another. The UN wants the International Criminal Court to handle it, but the U.S. doesn't recognize the ICC, so that won't work. Egypt begrudgingly wants to hold a summit and the European Union and the U.S. say they will offer support in the form of "logistics and planning." God Bless Canada…they actually plan to send troops in at the end of the summer. For their protection, I hope they have the authorization to open fire if necessary. NATO troops in Rwanda were useless eunichs because they were never given the authorization to fight the Interhamwe guerrillas.

The most productive effort I have seen is happening in Newton, Massachusetts where a high school student is selling rubber bracelets to raise money for relief of the 1.6 million Sudanese refugees who have been forced from their homes and into camps. God love him. Condee…take a lesson from the kid in Newton, close the dictionary, stop flapping your gums, and take action before we have one more international humiliation to regret very soon.

See New Jersey Senator John Corzine's take on Darfur at The Huffington Post.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Show Some Respect!

bewitchedNOTE TO TV LAND EXECUTIVES: Bewitched was a TV SHOW and should not be confused with a tragic episode in American history. And yes, I do have a sense of humor.

The geniuses at TV Land have decided to erect a statue of Samantha Stephens -- the lead character in the hit television comedy of the 1960s and 70s, Bewitched --in Salem, Massachusetts. She'll be sitting on a broom, sailing in front a crescent moon. Cool. But not in Salem. Please. I am probably the biggest fan of the lovely and graceful Elizabeth Montgomery, but she's got no business being immortalized in bronze in the hometown of Puritan persecution.

TV Land has put up several of these statues around the country: Mary Richards (aka Tyler Moore) is memorialized in Minneapolis throwing her hat up in the air, Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners is displayed outside the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City even though he was from Brooklyn, and Andy Taylor (aka Griffith) and Ron Howard (Opie) are set up in Raleigh, N.C. But Bewitched has about as much in common with Salem as Get Smart does with the Bay of Pigs.

In a desperate ratings grab for viewers late in its run, Bewitched actually went on location to Salem to film a couple of episodes and the best they could come up with was a lame story line about an enchanted bed warmer that became attached to Samantha while she toured the city. Even at the age of ten, I thought it was a stretch to find a connection between Bewitched and the Salem scandals. I mean, wouldn't Samantha be a little shaken up by such a trip? Like a Japanese-American internee returning to Manzanar or a Native American visiting Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears?

It is no mere coincidence that this statue is scheduled to go up around the same time the new Bewitched film is scheduled to open. This kind of national movie promotion is not unusual. Those controversial stone displays of The Ten Commandments in front of so many government buildings across the country were actually presented as gifts from the producers of the 1950s Cecil B. DeMille epic. While the Religious Right have used those monuments as sites to test the separation of church and state, they originally embodied the melding of corporate and government interests.

Now, I am no humbug to marketing. I am a proud consumer, tourist, and television watcher. When I was a kid, my brother and I had a blast at some sort of Bedrock-themed amusement park that celebrated The Flintstones and I've returned to both Disneyland and Disney World as an adult. My standards are not that high. I mean I watch Entertainment Tonight for god's sake. But before we make too light of a very heavy event, it might be good to re-visit the facts.

In 1692, some of Salem's most paranoid and jealous residents found a convenient way to knock off their neighbors in order to grab their land or to simply to get them out of their hair. Teenage hysteria and an insecure pastor who couldn't get along with anyone added to the confusion, resulting in dozens of innocent people being hanged and one pressed to death under stones. Blameless and vulnerable residents lost their lives and reputations to satisfy the greed and neurosis of their neighbors -- and their descendents have certainly not forgotten the cost of the insanity. The miscarriage of justice was found to be so egregious that even some of the judges called in for the trials (one of them an ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne), with the benefit of hindsight, denounced what had happened and, when possible, made small reparations to the survivors.

This cycle of history has repeated itself too many times as Arthur Miller pointed out by setting his story of McCarthyism, The Crucible, during the Salem trials. J. Edgar Hoover carried out character assassination and incarceration throughout the 20th century with the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the "witch hunts" after World War II, and FBI infiltration of protest groups in the 1960s. Depending on the social and political climate, it is easy for Americans to regress to superstitious Puritans, allowing religious principles and hysteria to dominate their judgement instead of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If we are to remember how dangerous such behavior can be, we must protect the true story of what happened in Salem and not allow it turn into a sitcom version of reality. Samantha Stephens lived in Connecticut -- why not set her statue there? If Salem seems appropriate to TV Land, I suppose it won't be long before we see Redd Foxx from Sanford and Son in downtown Selma or Birmingham or maybe Freddie Prinze from Chico and the Man posed next to the Alamo.

TV Land executives and the mayor of Salem think the statue is a "fun" idea and will add to the tourism appeal of Salem. I don't want to be a spoilsport, but can we just halt the marketing machine for a minute and show a little respect when it's called for? The victims of Salem deserve to have their stories remembered as they actually happened. I promise I will still visit Salem, but I won't be looking for Samantha, just some honest history.