Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I’ve Reached My Limit with the Debt Limit Talks

I know they’ve been going on for a while.

I know, because, two weeks ago, when I left my dentist’s office, my first thought was this: I guess I’ll just have to raise my debt limit.

My dentist, you see, had indicated that I need a bit of work done. Which means, my upcoming dental expenses will exceed the usual annual figure that reflects general preventative care. Oh well. You do what you gotta do. And sometimes, what you gotta do is raise your debt limit.

The folks inside the Beltway know this, but apparently, they’re having more fun playing games right now than they would be having substantive, sane discussions.

What a mess.

Although I’ve listened to a great deal of NPR commentary, I can’t claim to know the bottom line on this situation. In fact, from all the NPR commentary I’ve listened to for the past three or so years, I’d say that what I do know is this: no one knows for sure. Economists make recommendations based on theories, and the fact that there is more than one economic theory illustrates the degree of crap-shooting involved.

There’s also the general crookedness of the world. The banks are in bed with the people we’ve sent to Washington. No matter what decision is made, a handful of people are going to benefit way beyond their worthiness. That’s just the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be.

But, no matter how the sides of the debate arrive at some sort of compromise (if that is, in fact, possible), it seems to me – from what I’ve heard – that the debt limit must be raised.

I’ve also learned that this issue has become an issue because of all the new members of Congress – those guys and gals who were sworn in last January, after the Tea Party had its gatherings at the polls the previous November. And what I also have gleaned is that a lot of those guys and gals are absolute idiots.

There. I’ve said it.

And you know what? I’m not taking it back!

...Idiots empower idiots who elect idiots, and the chain reaction that led to this most recent phase of pitiable governance began with Sarah Palin. Just three years ago, she popped onto the scene in her gosh-oh-golly LensCrafters, and – thanks to that unfounded confidence she sports with rifle-wielding finesse – she made idiots feel good about themselves. “She’s just like me,” her fans would say. And that, apparently, was one of the reasons she received such a groundswell of support.

The idiot fans then realized there was a place for their kind in politics, and the Tea Party uprisings began. They organized; they identified leaders; and they voted those leaders into Congress last November.

So, while we do not currently have a vice president named Sarah Palin, we have dozens of Sarah Palin hybrids inside the Beltway. And they are making a royal mess of what was already a sufficient mess.

If they gave one minute’s thought to what could really happen if the country failed on its debt obligations come August 2nd, they might realize that it could hurt them, too. But they can’t realize that. They’re idiots.

Many of them also are racists, I suspect, and as such, their agenda is clear: do whatever is possible to destroy the legacy of our country’s first black president.

I’m not saying that Obama is doing right all the time.

I’m not sure anyone could at this point.

Not inside that toxic Beltway.

But I do know this: Obama is not an idiot!

God bless him for putting up with this shit.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Reruns: The Handwriting on the Wall (or, in this case... on the Post-it)

(original post-date: July 21, 2010)

Back in the late ‘80s, when I was employed by the Ford Foundation, I had a co-worker friend who amused me one day by sharing something she had found in her boss’ outbox. It was a one-page letter onto which he had placed a post-it.

The post-it said, “Toss.”

Lest you think that Ford had a shortage of wastebaskets, don’t even go there. Said boss could easily have saved himself a few offline keystrokes by simply doing the “Toss” maneuver all by himself. But nooooo… He had to delegate!

I don’t write this with any desire to condemn the Ford Foundation. To this day, I greatly admire the work they do. Nonprofits across the world need their philanthropy, and because of their grantmaking, positive things happen and lives are saved.

That being said, I also am happy to have learned that, in the wake of recent economic upsets, the Foundation reduced its staff by about a third.

Good for them.

When I was there, and when I was working as a Grants Administrator, I could easily have done my Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 job in about 10 hours a week. But I was on staff, and so… I showed up every day. At least, I did as much until I reached that two-year mark, when I knew that, even if I quit, I could walk away with two-months’ salary.

And that’s also what I did.

Yup, it was with that “grant” from the Ford Foundation that I moved to California to pursue a television writing career. And while that free money didn’t lead to the Hollywood gigs I had envisioned, it nevertheless did open the door to a new chapter. It put me on the other side of the country, where I’ve been establishing my turf ever since.

I realize that the Ford Foundation (what with its fairyland perks) is one end of the spectrum, and mom-and-pop joints are another. I get it, too, that a lot of hard-working people are experiencing some serious suffering right now. But there’s also been a lot of spoiled, wasted time outside mom-and-pop world, and frankly, I’m glad that many of the big cheeses are having to revisit their staffing plans. Getting rid of the dead weight is long overdue, and the existence of those superfluous bodies is hardly unique to Ford.

By the late ‘90’s, I had been exposed to enough government workers to know that a lot of them are way too comfortable. It’s been said (and I didn’t say it first) that it’s nearly impossible to get fired from a government job.

While that statement may no longer hold true, I consider Linda Tripp its ultimate poster girl.

Remember her?

She’s the one who had nothing better to do with her day than to track her “friend” Monica’s comings-and-goings, particularly in relation to a certain stained dress and a different spelling of the word “coming.”

Our tax dollars at work. Gotta love it.

As for the present? I’m aware of what’s happening in California, and I’m guessing it’s also happening in states and municipalities across the country: layoffs, government furloughs, and general restructuring. As our elected officials make their decisions, I hope they are taking a good, hard look not just at the boxes on the org charts but also at the people they have working for them. Get rid of the Lindas if only to protect, ultimately, the moms-and-pops.

It’s high time our economy revolved around real work, not idle gossip.

And we certainly don’t need to support bosses who delegate the disposal of their trash.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Antennae

We’ve all got them. And I’m not talking about the springy appendages that insects sport. I’m talking about intuition and sensing the bad. (There’s also intuition and sensing the good, but that’s a whole other topic.)

As many people do, I learned about my antennae the hard way. It was a summer afternoon in NYC. I was probably a year out of college. And after leaving my lunch-rush waitressing job in the Wall Street area, I’d taken the IRT back uptown. I got off at 110th Street and headed to my friend Robin’s apartment.

She lived in a beautiful old U-shaped building. The entryway was at the bottom of the U, and upon accessing the building (by way of the buzzer system), one had to walk the length of the confronting wall and hang two rights before reaching the elevator.

When I arrived at the building and buzzed Robin’s apartment, she asked who was there. Once I’d identified myself, she buzzed me in. There was a man just behind me, and I held the door open for him, letting him in on my buzz.

During the 15 seconds it took to walk to the elevator, my thumb did something very smart. It manipulated the sapphire and diamond ring that I wear on the ring finger of my right hand. It turned it so that the gems were facing the inside. My thumb turned the ring so that, when the man pulled a gun on me, he did not see the gems.

My mugger scared the shit out of me, got the seventeen dollars I’d made in tips that day, and gave me a good, strong case of PTSD that fucked with me for several months.

But I didn’t lose the ring, and the incident gave me a lesson. My thumb knew. Which means, I knew.

And for the rest of my years in NYC (and these were some tough times in that city), I’m sure I avoided all kinds of victim situations simply because I was aware that I was aware. I knew that although I may not be able to trust passers-by, I could trust me.

Fast forward: Los Angeles, 2003. I’d been in L.A. for 13 years at that point, and not having to watch my backside was becoming the norm. After 15 years in New York, it was a relief not to feel that danger could be lurking around every corner.

One afternoon, I went on “my walk.” Essentially a tour of remarkable real estate, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis Brown House. This particular afternoon, I went on the longer version of the walk, and because I’d been on that stretch enough times, I had a good sense of the topography and the presence of dogs.

I was at the top of a small hill that would go down and then up again quickly before it winded to the left and headed down for a bit (these are the hills below the Griffith Observatory). And just as I began to head down the small hill, I got that NYC antennae vibe. (“Warning, Will Robinson! Warning.”) I saw a man emerging from a driveway. He looked to be Latino, and I wondered if he were a day laborer. (I often saw day laborers in that area.) Regardless, he was heading not toward me, but in the same direction I was heading, and so in the split second I had to respond to my antennae, I decided to continue on my path. I’d rather he be ahead of me than behind me.

I continued to walk down the small hill, aware of my surroundings.

As I reached the place where the hill took its upturn, I noticed that he had stopped walking. He was now sitting on a thigh-high cement structure (something architecturally connected to the multi-million dollar home that graced that location in the turn). As I continued to walk closer to where he was, I didn’t give away my fear. But I took in his appearance. His army pants were well-pressed and tucked into polished lace-up black boots. His tee shirt, which was tucked into those pants, bore no wrinkles and indicated no sweat. His cap matched his pants, and he wore large sunglasses that were so dark there was no possibility of seeing the eyes behind them.

This was no day laborer. This was a man who brought to mind the word “guerilla.”

In addition to an olive green duffle bag, his possessions included a long brown paper bag that apparently contained a loaf of baguette-type bread. As I came within 10 feet of him, he began pulling pieces of the bread out of the bag, and he threw them in my path.

I’m so fucking dead, I thought, as I continued on my walk.

But, I didn’t give it away. I met the gaze that might have been there behind those dark glasses, I nodded, semi-smiled, and said, “Hi.”

Within seconds after my passing him, I sensed his dismounting from the wall where he had sat. And that’s when I immediately began to run.

I’m not a runner, and although I knew, in that moment, that my adrenalin would take me wherever I needed to go, I was embarking on about a quarter-mile of low-grade downhill pavement. This was really going to piss off my knees. But, I kept running. And I was so grateful to get to that hairpin turn. Because… I knew about the dogs.

There’s a hairpin turn on that walk, and guarding the house that occupies that turn are some seriously overzealous dogs. I knew they would bark as I approached, and of course, they did. And, when I got to the other side, and they’d followed me all the way – a hedge between us – they stopped barking. Their silence told me that I was not being followed. Their silence told me that I could stop running.

Their silence gave my knees a respite.

In retrospect, it might have been smarter for me to do an about-face the minute my antennae told me that the guy down the hill was bad news. But, my antennae didn’t fail me that afternoon.

They told me to be alert.

They told me to own every second.

They prepared me for the moment when it was time to run.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Reruns: Tweetle-Dee-Dee

(original post-date: July 14, 2010)

Last week, I was heading to my usual Thursday afternoon gig.

And I was taking my usual route: Hollywood Boulevard to Fairfax, at which point I’d head south and over to Sunset.

Within two miles from home, the traffic on the Boulevard slowed. Not an unexpected dynamic. After all, that’s where Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is. That’s where, on any given day, there are scads of day-players dressed as movie figures, cartoon characters, and assorted icons. They mill about and make an occasional buck by posing with tourists. Click, click. Another five dollars. (Or whatever they charge.)

But, on this particular day, the crowd was larger than usual, and the traffic was especially slow. As I inched ahead, I noticed a lot of cameras held up in the air. The tourists weren’t shooting their family members in one posed shot. They were shooting a moment.

Soon enough, I discovered what the moment was: Batman and Spiderman, in conference with two cops. Batman and Spiderman, both in handcuffs.

WHAT HAS THE WORLD COME TO?

And here’s the part that really blew me away. The first thing I thought was this: I’ve never wanted to tweet so badly.

Oh my God, am I really “going there?”

What might I have said, in 140 characters or less?

***Superpowers headed to jail! News at eleven.

***Be particularly vigilant, people. The protectors have been taken IN!

***Sorry, tourists. Your Grauman’s photo options have been depleted. Until further notice, it’s Marilyn or Homer Simpson.

… Maybe that’s why I’ve never been inclined to “tweet.” I fail to see a dynamic entry in the mix, and I am not even interested in continuing this exercise.

I don’t know; maybe, too, I’m just not a fan of little newsbytes. Maybe I’m also not convinced that the collective “we” should be encouraged to provide them and/or spend our time tracking them.

… A few days before the heroes’ arrest at Grauman’s, I watched a rerun of the Letterman show. Miley Cyrus was the guest, and boy, was she charming. That girl is smart and awesomely mature. I was surprisingly impressed, and I sensed that Dave was, too. At one point, he asked her if she twittered, adding that people have been telling him he needed to.

Miley disagreed. After stating that she hates twitter, she added, “You already have a show, so you don’t need a twitter.”

She also shared that she had tried it for a moment, but she felt stupid. One tweet: “I lost my lucky bracelet.” Subsequent tweet: “Woo-hoo. I found my lucky bracelet.”

Really? Do we need to know?

Miley doesn’t think so, and neither do I.

But here’s the more important question:

Do we care?

If we do, well… I pity us.

It’s sad enough that Batman and Spiderman are getting hauled off to the County Jail. Can we at least stop wasting our time with these quasi-updates?

Feel free to leave your comments, and please, don’t limit yourself to 140 characters.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peace in Symmetry

When I was in Virginia in May, I spent a few hours with one of Mom’s friends. Actually, she’s my friend, too. I’ve known her for as long as I have memory, and she’s a wonderful conversationalist.

She shared with me that she and her 40-year old daughter had spoken on the phone recently, and the daughter said something that struck her: “It is what it is.”

Ain’t that the truth.

I shared with my (and Mom’s) friend how peaceful I find that sentiment, and how it need not be limited to such a generic word as “it.”

…About eight years ago, I was deep into an incredibly content chapter of my life. I felt free of financial worries, and my social activities were as relaxed as they could possibly be.

Everything was just so very easy.

At the time, I remember acknowledging how frequently I thought in symmetrical terms. I was involved with a man who filled my heart, and when I would become a little frustrated by his behaviors, I would simply say, “Nick is Nick*.”

Similarly, “work is work.” “You can only do what you can do.” “It happens when it happens.”

And so forth.

… I try to hang on to this formula for peace.

It’s not only helpful in forgiving others, but it’s also a good way to be kind to oneself.

Because I’m not a perfect person (news flash, huh?), I like to give myself some slack. I like to remind myself of the symmetrical truth: I am who I am.

And life is life, and we get what we get.

We do what we do.

We earn what we earn.

We deserve what we deserve.

We love what we love.

…And that, my friends, is that.

----------
*not his real name

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Reruns: Where Women Fall Short

(original post-date: July 7, 2010)

Born in 1957, I was perhaps uniquely fortunate to be raised by a feminist. And what might surprise you is that, in making that statement, I am thinking about my father.

I can’t say exactly what informed my father’s perspective, but he clearly admired women and seemed most comfortable in their company. It is probably for this reason that he chose to teach at a women’s college. It also is probably for this reason that my memories of him at social gatherings place him more comfortably chatting among the women than the men. Dad was just never one of those “guy” types. He was entertaining, conversational (when he would acquiesce to my mother’s encouragement that they go to that evening’s party), artistic, and well – I think he just always had tremendous respect for women. He believed in our power and our minds. He never short-changed us as a collective group.

While this is a wonderful aspect of my upbringing, it’s made it a bit tough in the marriage and dating departments. I’ve done both, and at the moment, I’m doing neither. It could be that I’m at once too picky and too capable of being complete without the benefit of a partner. It could be that my father helped build my own sense of a woman’s tremendous worth. We are a remarkable gender. We can handle multiple tasks with intelligence and compassion. We don’t necessarily get caught up in – nor are we therefore thwarted by – oneupsmanship. We are damn good company, and our craving of damn good company makes our gatherings fun. Women rock.

But in my years of observing our behavior and of comparing it to the behavior of men, I have to say there is one area where we are absolutely stupid, and where men’s perspective, in comparison, is highly evolved.

Here’s where women fall short: We believe that we can change men.

And here’s where men shine: They don’t give a moment’s thought to believing that they can change women.

I’d be willing to bet on it: any woman who reviews the relationships she has had will remember times she thought that her man would change. Not only that, he’d change for her.

I doubt men entertain such futile musings.

… Several years ago, I was involved with a man who was remarkably good company until we hit the expiration date on our relationship. Which is to say, we had a great couple of years. I enjoyed what appeared to be his absolute respect for women. We were on the same page 99% of the time. In addition, because he was a movie enthusiast (and because his enthusiasm was contagious), I raced with him one afternoon so that we might get to the local theatre in time to see the very first screening of Kill Bill 2.

I had seen Kill Bill 1 on DVD a few weeks earlier, so I was up-to-speed. I also was excited to see how the story would play out. I was learning that Tarantino is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

I loved Kill Bill 2, and because I own a copy of the movie, I’ve seen it a few times. But even before I had the chance to absorb its story through subsequent viewings, the underlying message of the movie leapt out at me: None of that mayhem – none of those bloody, violent killings – would have occurred if the lead female character had understood that men don’t change for anyone. The entire plot of that two-part masterpiece revolves around the place where we women fall short.

In the final chapter of the Kill Bill series, after he has injected her with the truth serum and before she finally ends his life with Pai Mei’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, Beatrix Kiddo (aka The Bride) admits to Bill that, while she knew he was a killer, she never thought he would do it to her.

Guess again, sister.

For many of us women, the need for male companionship is basic and the rewards can be quite enjoyable. But: we need to let go of our belief that we are so special as to be given different treatment. We need to let go of thinking that “our man” will change simply because we’re in the room. We need to abandon what is perhaps a natural instinct to nurture (and therefore help grow/develop).

In its place, we just need to appreciate. Among other things, we should appreciate the fact that men never look at us and imagine who they might create from the assortment of characteristics we present. (Forget Henry Higgins, gals. He’s fictional.) Men don’t envision our potentials. They don’t hear of our past shortcomings and think, “Oh, she wouldn’t do that to me.”

Men see us for what we are and they take it or leave it.

They’re smart that way.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Audio Moves

I am 53 years old, and I’m not sure what that means.

When I was a kid, 53 was “getting up there.”

When I was a kid, few people made it into their 90’s.

These days, I may or may not be middle-aged. I’m just not sure. In my heart, I feel incredibly young. Some days, in fact, I feel that I’m just “playing office” or “making house.” Some days, I look around the home I’ve established (an apartment, granted), and I wonder, When did I get to be so grown up? Who told me I should put those spoons in that drawer?

And then there are those other moments – those moments when I arise from the couch – and I hear the noise of my age.

I hear the noise… a noise that says, I’m standing up now.

When did I start doing that?

When did I start providing a soundtrack to my ups and downs?

… Back in 2008, I had the resources and time to take a wonderful trip back east. It began in New York and ended in Virginia. It spanned three weeks.

While I was in NYC, I moved about. I spent the first two nights with some friends in Queens. Then, I cashed in some Amex points for two nights at a Radisson on West 33rd. And I spent the final two nights with some college buddies who always have room for me at their place. (Their place happens also to be on 33rd , but in their case, it’s the east side.)

During one of my Radisson days, I’d made arrangements to hook up with my friend Alyssa – another college buddy. She agreed to meet me at my hotel, and we’d take it from there. I emerged that morning and told her that I had two interests: either the World Trade Center site downtown or our old campus stomping grounds uptown.

Alyssa (perhaps influenced by her own emotions) shared that there was not much to see at Ground Zero. We headed north.

During our walk up Broadway, we had a great time catching up, and the eighty-plus blocks passed by quickly. Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the famous Columbia gates, and we entered College Walk.

The Columbia campus is something to behold. Remarkably imposing buildings. At the south end, Butler Library – with its columns and with the names chiseled into its fa├žade: Homer. Herodutus. Sophocles. Plato. Aristotle. Demosthenes. Cicero. Vergil.

And facing Butler is Low Library, a domed structure that rises above the rest – the campus centerpiece.

Between the two, and leading up to Low, are “the steps.”

The Steps.

Just north of College Walk, there is a group of about seven steps. Then, after a bit of even pavement, scored with a nice brick design, there are probably 30 or so more steps.

Back in the day, that first group of seven was the place to meet.

Those were The Steps.

Back in the day, we’d plan to hook up with our friends between classes.

We’d hook up on the steps.

And more often than not, we’d pass a joint. That’s what the steps were about back then.

The Steps.

… So when Alyssa and I entered College Walk, just three years ago, we each were probably entertaining memories. (I know I was.)

And when we decided to just sit down and take it in for a minute, we were both feeling nostalgic.

We climbed three or four rows up.

Then, we readied ourselves to sit.

As we descended into our positions, we each made a noise.

Once we had settled, I turned to my friend.

“Alyssa,” I said, “I think they lowered the steps.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Reruns: In the Eleventh Hour

(original post-date: June 30, 2010)

My tendency to interpret things literally was particularly pronounced when I was a kid. I wrote about it in a previous post, and I will write about it again. In the meantime and as an example, I’ll share one short anecdote: During my “Wonder Years,” I lived in a small Virginia town that was home to both a GE facility and a DuPont plant. Accordingly, many of my classmates’ fathers were engineers. But I didn’t understand the connection, and so I always felt baffled. With so many engineers, why were there so few trains?

When a five-year-old interprets something literally (based on the information she has), it’s pretty darn cute. When someone my age is incorrect in her literal interpretation, she just looks stupid. At the very least, she seems quite gullible.

I was reminded of this fact last week when, hearing news of an 11-hour Wimbledon match, I believed – quite sincerely – that the two players had actually played tennis nonstop that whole time.

What?

WHAT?

Okay, once I heard follow-up news and read follow-up copy, the reality made sense. The 11-hour match did not take place all at once. Rather, it was divided into a few sessions that were ridiculously long in their own right.

… Even the subsets of the full set would boggle the mind of some. But no, not me! I was willing to believe that the full match was played without a break!

Where the hell am I coming from?

Good question.

A part of where I’m coming from probably reflects my love of tennis. My parents played it a lot when they were in their late 30’s and early 40’s, and they encouraged my sister and me to play as well. My sister obliged their desires, which left me in the position of rebelling. Always and insistently the family’s “other member,” I wanted no part of the game.

So I stubbornly sat on the sidelines.

But I picked up a racket when I was 16 or so, and I enjoyed the opportunity to play at my prep school, where four or five tennis courts across the campus allowed pick-up games throughout the afternoon. Having learned just enough to understand scoring, I was ready to compete, and without a teacher telling me what I had done wrong… without a team on which I would have to do right, I hit those balls like nobody’s business. I came to love tennis, and had I not also become an urban-dweller, I probably would have continued to play for years on end. I’d probably still be playing. But, that’s not how things turned out. These days, the most access I have to tennis is through the television, where I can watch a tournament for hours, enchanted by the game’s powerful rhythms and possibilities, by its capacity to reveal individual strength and stamina.

What will seem unrelated to these musings on tennis is an observation my sister once shared – an observation that I cannot dispute: “You know,” she said, “I think it’s a good thing you never had kids, because everything you do, you do thoroughly.”

I get her point. And while I don’t think I would have become the type of mother whose intense approach to parenting is ultimately depicted in a movie-of-the-week about murder among cheerleaders, I believe that if I had had children, there would have been a death in the family. My own.

The fact of the matter is, I need complete and utter freedom to attack what I do.

When I’m focused, I want to stay focused.

Whether I'm making a bunch of long beaded necklaces or writing a novel, I attack. And I can stay in that mode for extremely long periods of time.

But what you also need to know is that, in spite of my using the word “attack,” those hours I put in are relaxing and magical. There is absolutely nothing aggressive in that time. It is natural, and it is beautiful.

Yet, I’ll admit, it takes a physical toll. Not so much on my stamina, but on my appearance.

… I remember – more than 30 years ago – back when I was waitressing at the Hungarian restaurant near Columbia on Manhattan’s upper west side, a woman came in to ask for a table. She was expecting a dinner companion who had not yet arrived. And because we were quiet that night, I was permitted to show her a table where she could wait for her friend.

None-too-busy myself, I was able to inquire about the woman’s friend. “What does she look like?” I asked, offering to keep an eye out.

“Oh,” the woman said, hanging her head a bit (some guilt, perhaps, having its way), “she’d probably hate me for saying this, but… she just looks… tired.”

I was too young then to appreciate what that woman had said, but today, I feel a special bond to the dinner partner who eventually showed up that night. Was she tired or simply an artist? And if the latter was true, was she perhaps an artist who had reached a menopausal plateau whereby the concept of bedtime is nonexistent and the idea of an 11-hour tennis match seems realistic?

I’ll never know.

But with any luck, I’ll sleep on it.