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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spoil Me

There's a lot to enjoy about the Olympics.  The pomp and circumstance.  The opportunity for national bragging rights.  This:

This is Ryan Lochte.  He swims.  But it's funner when he's just standing somewhere.  Half-dressed.

But there's another aspect of the Olympics that I'm really starting to enjoy.  That aspect is the people who go on social media to complain about how social media is ruining the excitement of prime time by posting the results hours before we watch the event unfold. 

It's really fun to watch people who follow ESPN or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or any reporter on the face of the planet get all up in arms when those news outlets or news reporters proceed to output and report the news.  It's like getting mad at babies for being cute or cake for being delicious or Tijuana for being hot and kind of scary. 

Don't want your biological clock to start ticking?  Stop holding 8 pounds of sweet-smelling newborn human.  Don't want to awaken your sweet tooth?  Pass on dessert.  Don't want to end up featured on National Geographic Channel's "Locked Up Abroad?"  Buy your herbal supplements in California.

Don't want to hear the news before you watch the newsworthy event?  STOP FOLLOWING THE NEWS!!!  Go to work, do your work, go home, eat dinner, read a book, and then turn on the television.  Answer the phone, answer your emails, and then you put that evil news-transmitting device in the bottom of your purse or the furthest-away pocket.  MAGIC!

I bet the vast majority of the people who are angry with Facebook/Twitter/the Internet for spoiling the Olympics have no idea that 600 million people in India are without power, that a huge patent trial between Apple and Samsung is taking place in a California courtroom, or that unemployment is at a record high in the Euro zone.  But that's all in the news, too.  Clearly people are able to filter what information penetrates their eyeballs.  They just need to take that filter to a new frontier.  With the 2-for-1 bonus that they'll both avoid spoilers AND they'll know how Lewis & Clark felt during their transcontinental expedition to the Pacific coast.

I, for one, love the spoilers.  I loved watching Missy Franklin win gold in the 100M backstroke and know, as I was watching, that she was going to win.  When NBC transitioned to men's gymnastics, it helped knowing that they were going to crash and burn before I suffered through their teensy-weensy errors of ghastly consequence.  To my mind, spoilers soften the blow and buoy the spirit.  Spoilers cradle the viewer as they do the viewing.  Spoilers are pad the walls of the sports-watching cave.

On the spectrum of sports fandom, I'd rank myself somewhere in the "above average" category.  I quite like sports, and I generally like watching them.  But I LOVE watching them when I know the result.

Too many years ago to think about, I watched one of my sister play in the state basketball championships.  She was the starting point guard.  They won the game.  It was agonizingly close throughout. She played brilliantly and had a decisive impact on her team's winning result.  It was exciting and excruciating and emotional to see her do it.

I watched the entire thing on videotape.  (To give you some idea of how long ago that was.)  I knew she had won when I sat down to watch.  And yet I still cringed every time her opponent scored, jumped up every time she did, and clapped whenever she had a great pass or a steal.  When the game was over, I was exhausted but elated.  In other words, I experienced all the swings of a game, but my emotions were cushioned by the reminder that I knew she and her team would ultimately pull off a victory.

It was perfect.

I wish every other game she played in high school and then in college could have come with a spoiler.  I wish the same for every game anyone else I care about has ever played and will ever play.

In fact, I'd love spoilers for life events outside of sports.  Which is probably why I found out the sex of my two children when they were still in utero.  Here are other spoilers I'd sign up for, if they were available:

  • On April 16 of every year, I would want to know what my taxes for the upcoming year would be.  So that I can both budget accordingly, and spread out my rage over 365 days instead of cramming it all into one uncomfortable weekend.
  • Every morning, I would like to be told what treats I will be offered over the course of the day.  So that if someone offers me an oatmeal raisin cookie at work, I can pass in favor of the chocolate peanut butter ice cream run my husband suggests after dinner.
  • When I go anywhere, I would like to know who I am going to run into there.  So that I can dress and mentally prepare accordingly.
  • When I travel, I'd like to know how many delays and inconveniences I will encounter.  So that I can have all of my back-up plans fully mobilized.
  • When I start a conversation with my husband, I would like to know if there is a fight lurking at the end of it.  So that I can pretend to hear my son crying and dodge that bullet.
  • When I start to cook dinner, I would like to know how badly it is going to turn out.  So that I can give up immediately and order pizza.
How about you?  Would you like more spoilers in your life?


Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School

On Thursday, I wrote a post about my mother-in-law's visit to our house.  The post focused on how she treats my husband.  I described that treatment as something approximating hero-worship, with a dash of coddling and a heavy side of devotion.  I gave examples of the lengths she will go to for him, and how I measure up football-fields short in comparison.

On Friday, I wrote a post about how the population of jerks in the world seems to be on the rise.  I wondered why people have done away with basic manners.  I championed the values of being a nice person.

On Saturday morning, I received the following comment to Friday's post: 

To be fair, yesterday's post (a withering public critique of you husband's mother) was one of the more impolite things you could do. Manners extend beyond the kiosk and they don't apply only to interactions with strangers. I was surprised and discouraged by what I read yesterday. If you want to write everyday, then write everyday, just think hard before hitting publish. You write and think with great clarity. Those skills, combined with a frustrating day, a bad mood, and a "publish" button, can get you into trouble.

I have no idea who left the comment -- it was titled "Anonymous."  It could have been a family member, a friend, or a stranger.  But it doesn't really matter.  It stung to the core.

In writing a blog and foisting my thoughts and opinions onto the public Internet, I accept that not everyone who reads a given post will like that post.  They may think I've taken on a boring topic or a stupid one, they may think my writing stinks, and they may disagree with my views.  I'm pretty fine with that.  Of course, I would be disappointed, but it wouldn't paralyze me.

Saturday morning, though, I was sent into a tailspin.

My reactions were jumbled.

On the one hand, I thought the commenter missed the point of my mother-in-law post.  The comment indicates that the person reads my blog with some regularity.  Yet he/she seemed to have missed the standard snark and attempts at humor that pepper the vast majority of my previous posts.  The commenter called it a "withering public critique of my husband's mother," when I thought the post was simply a humorous glimpse at the nature of their mother-son relationship and how I pale in comparison as his wife.  The other reactions to the post I'd received jived with this part of my reaction: people thought the post was hilarious or "the most insightful thing I'd written so far" or worthy of an "Amen."  Including my husband and his two sisters (who I'd asked for permission to write about their mother before I did).

Therein lies the rub, though.  Before I even wrote the post, I was somewhat uneasy about the topic.  I knew my mother-in-law would never read it, but I did know her children would.  I knew (and know) that I was approaching the entire subject from a position of "poking fun."  I knew (and know) I love and respect my mother-in-law, and of course my husband.  But I also knew (and know) that humor can sting.  And I wanted to be sure that those who might take the post the wrong way would (1) not be caught off guard by the submission; (2) understood that the only message I was trying to convey was a funny one.

I did not, however, tell my mother-in-law I'd be writing about her.  Because I know that she prides herself on the mother she is, and might not appreciate that I was, in a sense, making fun of her.

But I got the thumbs-up from all of her children to proceed, and I did.

I wrote the post under time constraints and did very little editing.  I used some of my standard tools: in some places I exaggerated, in some places I self-mocked, and in other places I played with comparisons.  Contrary to what the commenter insinuated, as I wrote I was not mad, I was not frustrated, I was not out for blood.

I also was not thinking enough.  Even as I wrote the post, my uneasy feeling remained.  And on Friday, when I wrote the post about being nice, I myself heard the nagging voice in the back of my head wondering if I was being hypocritical given the nature of my post just the day before.

Then came Saturday morning's comment.

I struggled with how to respond, and if I even should.  I tried to summon self-righteous indignation.  I tried to pretend that "I'm a writer" and if you don't like my writing, screw you.  I tried to convince myself I did nothing wrong.

It didn't work.  I ultimately embraced the fact that I never felt completely comfortable with the post. 

So I took it down.  It's taken up residence in the Internet's landfill.  I hope its techno-degradable.

It is true that I am trying to be a writer.  It is true that not everyone is going to like what I write.  It is true that I will receive comments that point out the flaws in my writing.

It is also true that I will receive comments that point out the flaws in me.  All of those comments will hurt.  How I respond to those comments will vary.

Comments that mirror twinges of doubt that I am already feeling will resonate the most.  Especially if those comments accuse me of being a hypocrite, insensitive, or exploitative.  Like Saturday's comment did.

This blog will remain a forum for me to post my opinions and to make fun of life.  Sometimes, I will not come across as "nice" when I do so.  But as Garrison Keillor once said, "You taught me to be nice, so nice that now I am so full of niceness, I have no sense of right and wrong, no outrage, no passion."  I suppose that I want to be "nice" except to the extent I can't see right and wrong, I can't feel outrage, I can't experience passion.  And then write about it.

The struggle for me will be to write in a way that remains respectful.  Part of that will be to pick appropriate subjects.  I still think my mother-in-law's relationship with my husband could be one such subject.  But on Thursday, I didn't write well enough to do it justice.  Which is my bad, and my bad alone.

I am not a perfect writer.  I am not a perfect person.  I am trying to get better.  At both.

Saturday, I got schooled.  At both.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dear Abby: Why Are There So Many Jerks?

Close your eyes.

Actually, DON'T!  Don't close your eyes!  How will you read this with your eyes closed?  Silly!

Just picture this with me:

It's mid-afternoon slump time.  You're at Starbucks to order an alcohol-free/chocolate-free pick-me-up.  There's a line of people in front of you.  Some are carrying shopping bags, some are carrying babies, some are carrying smart phones.  Like the guy in front of you.  He's carrying a smart phone and is using that smart device to let everyone else in the store know how smart he is by saying lots of smart-sounding words and giving lots of smart-sounding instructions to whatever poor soul is on the other end of the line.  The smart-phone talker is wearing a smart suit with smart glasses and has his hair smartly parted just-so.  It's finally his turn to order whatever beverage is going to stimulate his smart thinking. He approaches the counter, looks at the woman ready to take his order like his dairy-versus-soy preference is the most interesting thing she is about to ever hear, and barely trains his lips away from the smart receiver he's been barking into.

"Triple shot.  Latte.  Venti.  Froth, not foam.  180 degrees.  3/4 package of Splenda."

Then he throws his Starbucks gold card at the barista and redirects his smart attention to his smart phone and his smart monologue on the urgency of whether the mid-afternoon or early evening charter flight to Martha's Vineyard is the better option.  He saunters over to the pick-up station, where he rolls his eyes in exasperation every time a drink is presented for consumption, and that drink is not his drink.

You approach the counter, hoist yourself up onto it, and give the barista a hug.  You buy her a petite vanilla bean scone.  And you laugh with her about the cinnamon that Mr. Smart Man brushed up against and now has stained just above his belt line.

This is not a meditation exercise on fashion, stain removal, or over-use of the word "smart."  This is a story about the absence of something.

What's missing from the encounter described above?  Can you identify it?

Manners.  That's what's missing.  From  there and almost everywhere.

The other day I was walking down the hall at work to do something thrilling -- maybe pick something up from the printer -- and I heard an IT guy ordering lunch.  He kept on telling the poor lady at the Chinese restaurant about all his "needs."  How he "needed" some Kung Pao chicken and how he "needed" some beef fried rice and how he "needed" some spring rolls.  I paused in my document retrieval efforts to suggest that all he "needed" was a diet and a scholarship to Little Miss Manners School for Mouthy Minors.

One guy needs his coffee.  Another needs his MSG rations for the day.  A traveler needs her room upgraded, her luggage delivered faster, her trip through the security line free from slow-movers like toddlers.  A driver needs that parking space, that green light, that right of way.

Children are bullied.  Adults are demeaned.  Politics is personal.

I don't consider "manners" to just be the words we use, but the way we treat other people.  And it seems as though the vast majority of us has forgotten the simple manners we were all supposed to learn before those big challenges of learning to cut paper and how to wash our own hands.  Say please.  Then say thank-you.  Be nice.  Accept differences.  Respect yourself.  Respect others.  Throw in a door-hold with a smile every now and then.  Be nice again.  Be nice always. 

Why have manners fallen into such disuse, a reader has asked?

Well, if I had to place blame, I'd divide it between two phenomena:

1.  A zero-sum mentality.  It seems to me that people think life, and every aspect of it, is some big competition.  Unfortunately, that means that people think there are winners and losers in life.  More unfortunately, those same people think that in order to be a winner, they have to trample on all the eventual losers as they blaze their path to victory.  And in this game, if a competitor wins a job or a girl or a spot on a youth soccer team or a place in line, then everyone else is necessarily a loser.  It's win or bust.

How does this translate into poor manners?  Well, if everyone is a foe/enemy, then you are schooled to treat them accordingly.  And you don't extend niceties to potential threats or warmly embrace their differences.  You exploit them, or you exaggerate them, and you probably make fun of them.  You definitely do NOT say "excuse me" as you tackle them to the curb lining your Road to Success.

2.  The technology of instant gratification.  I bet at some point today, you got exasperated because it took too long to refresh your Twitter feed.  I bet when you order something online, if 2-day shipping isn't free, you consider shopping elsewhere.  If you have children, I bet your children know how to use your iPad to summon their favorite Dora/Backyardigans/Elmo video the moment they decide they want to see it.

When we want something, we now think it should arrive before our eyes or in our hands soon after we've formed the underlying desire.  If it is delayed, or arrives not as we conceived it, we feel frustrated, duped, even betrayed. 

But you can't yell at a slow Internet connection and you can't berate a webpage.  Well, you can, but it's not very satisfying.  What is satisfying is finding some poor customer service rep hiding behind a 1-800 number and accosting them with your righteous indignation.  Or you can loudly exhale when the barista hands you a mochaccino instead of the frappuccino you clearly demanded.  Or you can look at the flight attendant with thinly-disguised condescension when she tells you that you'll need to put away Angry Birds during take-off.

We think we know everything and we deserve everything because we are going to win everything.  So listen up, pony up, and then get out of our way.  And no, you do not deserve my time, attention, or consideration.

Fortunately, not everyone plays the game this way.  Some of us realize that life's victories can feel sweeter when we recognize that they can be shared, and multiplied, and repeated.  That kindness and gentleness and compassion are victories in and of themselves.  And that at the end of the day, the size of the deal you closed or the apartment you bought doesn't really matter if your colleagues hope you bleed out to a slow death by paper cuts and no one will ever visit you in that apartment.  Because you are mean.  And you'd probably expect them to empty your trash and thank you for the privilege.

If my daughter doesn't say please when she asks for something, I pretend like I didn't hear the request.  Rules about friends in our house are pretty straightforward, because there's only one: be nice to everyone.  Rules about playing are similarly streamlined: if you can't take turns, you can't play.

Of course, she's not perfect and she forgets even these simple maxims.  When she does, she gets a talking-to and she promises to try to do better next time. 

I honestly don't care if she's good at sports or good at music or good at school.  I have a strong, unwavering desire that she is good at being a person.  Same goes for her brother (as soon as he's developed enough for concepts like good-versus-bad).

Too many people are good at making money or good at getting dressed or good at seeming important, but they're bad at being good.

So, Mr. Man at Starbucks, start small.  You can be a jerk as soon as you get back to your office.  Heck, be a jerk once your feet hit the sidewalk.  But now, while you're ordering your caffeine?  Put down the phone.  Look that woman in the eye.  Speak in a conversational tone.  End your order with a "please."

Thanks so much.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I Dreamed A Dream

There's a community of writers out there.  The people who eschew a 9-to-5 lifestyle in favor of vampiric hours spent in pajamas in front of a computer screen bouncing a rubber ball and chain smoking as they meditate on things like plot lines and dialogue and Words.  The mission, which they've assigned and accepted, is to write the next great American novel or the next great Sorkin-esque screenplay or the next great Tweet. 

I know that this community exists because I read about it, and I read about them.  The authors, that is.  The ones who have risen to such prominence that they have secured a nice lot on the cul-de-sac, and the ones who have just been allowed into the neighborhood.  And I've read their output.  Their books and memoirs and articles and blogs.  And their tweets.  Of course, their tweets.

The great thing about writing, and I suppose the great thing about communities, is that they're both at least theoretically egalitarian.  If you have the impulse, the insight, and the inspiration, you, too, can write.  You can even be a writer.  All you need is some basic literacy, some basic writing instruments, and some basic ideas about what you want to communicate.  Just like we have come to believe that if you want to own a house or own a better house, you can, someday, as long as you amass the tools to do so -- hard work, a goal, and some cash.

There are a lot of aspiring writers out there.  I mean, a ton.  Aspiring writers might be the biggest class of aspirants out there.  I'd wager they outnumber aspiring actors, aspiring pro athletes, and aspiring politicians.  Definitely aspiring lawyers.  (If you are an aspiring lawyer, please contact me immediately.)

The thing that makes writing such a friendly-seeming aspiration is that very egalitarian quality I discussed above.  To make it as an actress, you need to be a size 2 with enormous breasts, eyes and lips, or you need to be Meryl Streep.  To make it as an athlete, you need to have hand-eye coordination and the appropriate fat-to-muscle ratio.  To make it as a politician, you need connections and money and ego.

In comparison, the writing thing looks easy.  I know words!  I have ideas!  I can use the words to express my ideas, and I never even have to stand up from my chair or move any body part other than my fingers.  I can visualize myself as a writer even though my favorite designer is Target and I get winded climbing stairs and the only thing I'm connected to is the Internet.  Oprah will reincarnate her book club for me, Barnes & Noble will select me as their Book of the Month EVERY month, and the New York Times will feature me on the cover of its magazine.  The only risk to me is hand-cramping from all the book-signing.

Or maybe not so fast. 

I'm learning that writing is a dangerous mistress.  She beckons to you with her Microsoft Word and her spell-check, reassuring you that if Kristen Stewart can be Hollywood's highest-paid gal, you can at least make a dent in your mortgage with some piece of writing.  She traps you with a few freebies, moments when the sentences flow and the tone is right and the reaction is positive.  Then she smacks you upside the head like some sado-masochistic scene from Fifty Shades of Grey and you suffer from things like writer's block and writer's doubt and writer's tears.  Possibly also weight gain and ill-advised spending patterns. 

You want to stop.  Give up the dream.  Go back to your life as a cynical drone.

But you can't.  Because some kernel of you still believes there's something good around the corner.  A prize.  A triumph.  A book deal.

Writers I read about all say the same thing.  If you want to make it as a writer, the first thing you have to do is write.  Sounds simple to the point of being dumb.  The point is, though, that you have to write ALL THE TIME.  Even when you don't feel like it and even when you think you have nothing to say.  Even when, say, all you can think to write about is writing itself.

This blog is my exercise in writing -- if not every day, then every weekday.  There are definitely times when I feel like my writer's block is actually a 20-car pile-up somewhere in the region of my frontal lobe.  I get so tempted to give up -- if not indefinitely, then just for the day.  But then I foresee the guilt I'd feel and the text from my sister asking where in the heck today's post is, and I sit down.  I type.  I hit "publish."  And I hope tomorrow will feel better.

All this means that I spend my days thinking about what to write about next.  Inspiration hits me in the most bizarre of places.  Usually it's early in the morning, when the house is quiet and my brain can just kind of go.  Sometimes I'm in the situation, and as I am experiencing it I am also drafting the blog post around it.  Other times I'm just numb, and there are no ideas and the screen is blank. 

Last night was a first, though.  Last night I had a dream, and as I was dreaming the dream, I gleefully thought "I'm going to write about this!"  But not as in "I'm going to write about this dream!"  As in "I really do believe that I'm sitting next to Brad Pitt as he's strumming on a guitar and I am SOOOO going to have to blog about this tomorrow."

That's right.  In my dream last night, I was at a pool party at our local pool, and as he is wont to do, Brad Pitt showed up.  His hair was longer, pulled back in a low ponytail at the nape of his neck, and he was very, very tan.  He was there solo, probably because he wanted to be able to enjoy my company without the distractions of his wife and children.  He sat down next to me at the picnic table.  Somehow a guitar materialized, and he started singing.  I think it was "More Than Words," a staple of the middle school dance circuit back in my day.  Anyway, the dude can croon.

Then lo and behold, who approaches the chain link fence but Barack Obama, flanked by some Secret Service guys.  Mr. President wanted to join in the fun, but for some reason didn't want to walk the twenty feet to the pool entrance; he wanted to scale the fence.  The Secret Service men played their part and hoisted Air Force One's most frequent flyer onto their shoulders, but the guy needed someone to help ease him down the other side.  I did what any respectable American would do and approached the fence, extended a hand, and helped the Commander in Chief make a smooth landing on the pool lawn.

It was clearly an above-average night.  As it played out, I just kept thinking how great it was going to be to write about.  I mean, Sexiest Man Alive together with Michelle's husband?!?  Blockage would be impossible.

Imagine my disappointment when I woke up this morning and realized that that euphoric feeling of just dying to get my writing on was a joke.  An actual dream.

And yet that time with Brad Pitt and the President, REM or not, has still given me some material.  Not the kind I'd originally drafted, but material all the same.

And maybe I'll never write anything more than a blog.  A blog that draws sizable attention mostly when I talk about Justin Bieber or an event that Matt Ryan was at.  I can still have posts I'm proud of, even if they don't get the same audience reaction.  Maybe that's all okay.  Maybe that's all I need.

And anyway, I can still keep dreaming.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Twinkle, Twinkle

Twinkle, twinkle, little eye,
Wonder how long until you cry.
You are playing nicely now,
Gnawing on a plastic cow.

I know that this won't last long,
Soon the quiet will be gone.
When you see me go bye-bye,
Twinkle, twinkle, cue the cry.

I can have you fed and changed,
But then you will have head banged.
A time of such peace and calm,
Wrecked because you bit your arm.

Don't you see the toys all 'round?
Today's game of lost and found!
You can jump or bounce or crawl.
There's no need to start to bawl.

What more am I 'sposed to do
To keep you from feeling blue?
You can go from happy to sad,
Faster than I can find your dad.

Come on, man, please clue me in,
For us both it's a win-win.
If not I'll just have to guess,
And those odds are not the best.

Twinkle, twinkle, little eye,
Wonder how long until you cry....
Wonder how long until you cry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Shot in The Dark

Online purchases.  Some sent expedited delivery.  A shopping spree spanning 4 months and yielding 50 packages.

The shopping list: 
  • A combat vest, magazine holders, and a knife. 
  • Gas canisters for tear gas.
  • A ballistic helmet, a gas mask, a throat protector. 
  • Tactical vests and pants. 
  • 6,000 rounds of ammunition.
Legal?  Yes.

In-store purchases.  A shopping spree spanning 2 months and yielding 4 receipts.

The shopping list:

  • A glock pistol.
  • A shotgun.
  • An AR-15 rifle.
  • Another pistol.
Legal?  Yes.

A to-do list. 

  • Modify AR-15 rifle with a high power drum magazine so that it can shoot automatically.
  • Remodel apartment.  With booby traps.
Legal?  Yes.

A final purchase.

  • One ticket to midnight premiere of The Dark Night Rises.
There is a six-year-old little girl who won't get on the bus for first grade because she was killed during that midnight showing.  11 others suffered a similar fate. 

The little girl's mother is in critical condition, wounded by the gun that killed her daughter just before or soon after it entered her own body.  57 others were also injured.

One 24-year-old has this blood on his hands and his conscience.  One kid who quit a PhD program in neuroscience to earn a PhD in cold-blooded, psychopathic, degenerate killing.

You would think that anyone to consider this tragedy would have reactions ranging from sadness to despair to anger to disgust.

You would be wrong.

Go to a chat room or a message board where the shooting is discussed.  In response to one participant's question as to why any one civilian needs to be weaponized like a militiaman and body-armored like a SWAT team member, try to see if you can count all the responders who say "that's just the price we have to pay for freedom."  Or "if you don't like it, leave."

Go to Twitter.  Search for the NRA's handle.  Marvel at the fact that, within hours of the shooting, the NRA fired off a tweet with an embedded link to an article on the top 10 mistakes made when a gun is used in a movie. 

Go to any news article on the shooting and its aftermath, and read the quotes from gun "enthusiasts" who proclaim that amassing a private war chest is a right protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This is the song and dance we watch after every tragedy of this type.  Most of us shake our heads and wonder how it can be so easy to get so many weapons, in unlimited numbers and of unlimited strength.  Then a small but vocal group with deep pockets and a strong lobbying partner derides us.  As if we're the enemy.  As if we're the ones on the prowl.  As if we're armed and dangerous because we supposedly don't understand the Constitution.  Or worse, that we'd advocate against it.

The gun enthusiasts point to the Second Amendment.  The life enthusiasts holler back.  The gun enthusiasts point to the Second Amendment.  The gun enthusiasts funnel money to gun-friendly politicians.  The gun enthusiasts funnel money to back-room negotiators.  The gun enthusiasts get some laws passed, some laws repealed, some laws stalled.  The gun enthusiasts get more enthusiastic.  The dance is over.

I'm not ready to sit this one out.  Cue the music.

Go out into the country.  Or down to the south.  Find someone with guns and ammo stockpiled in their backyard and beer cans lined up for target practice on the fence.  Ask them when they bought their sawed-off shotgun.  Ask them where they bought their silencer.  Ask them how they learned to line up their sniper rifle.

Now, ask them why they think they should be allowed to have those weapons.  They'll say "because of the Second Amendment."  Press them.  Urge them to elaborate.  Whatever they say next will just be some variation of "because of the Second Amendment."    

It's a funny thing.  A lot of the people whose favorite argument is "because of the Second Amendment" have probably never studied the Constitution.  They've probably never read a Supreme Court decision.  They might never have even read the Second Amendment.

It might intrigue them to know that there is a long-standing, wide-ranging debate over what the Second Amendment actually means.  It might appall them to know that some very smart people believe it only protects an individual's right to carry a weapon in connection with military service.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court weighed in on the debate.  The decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, arguably the most conservative justice on the current Supreme Court.  Going on stereotype, one could guess that he would come down quite strongly in support of our gun-toting, ammo-loading, "because of the Second Amendment" brethren.

And he did.  Kind of.

Justice Scalia's majority opinion ruled that individuals have the right to possess and carry weapons.  BUT.  But.  He wrote that we have the right to possess and carry those weapons "in case of confrontation."  In other words, we have the right to possess and carry weapons so that we can use them in self-defense.  In our home.  With a handgun.

Indeed, Justice Scalia himself wrote that the right guaranteed under the Second Amendment is not unlimited, and that it is legal -- indeed, constitutional -- to impose conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of weapons.  What is more, he wrote that the types of weapons that are protected under the Second Amendment are weapons that were "in common use at the time" the Amendment was enacted.  Which was 1791.

What are NOT protected, wrote Justice Scalia, are weapons that are "dangerous and unusual."

The Second Amendment protects, but it doesn't immunize.  The Second Amendment guarantees, but not outright.  The Second Amendment allows, but not limitlessly.

And yet the Aurora, Colorado shooter had no problem acquiring an assault rifle that he had no problem modifying into an automatic weapon.  Actually, go ahead and refer back to the list of his killing tools that I outlined at the beginning of the post.  Tell me where you see the indications that this guy was acquiring firearms in the event he needed one to protect himself from a burglar or other home intruder.  Keep looking.  Bonus points if you find anything on that list that was in "common use" in 1791.

There is no system to track weapons stock-piling in our country.  In Colorado a gun registry is illegal.  There was a federal assault weapons ban, but it expired in 2004.  In the 8 years since, Congress has done nothing to reintroduce similar legislation.

If I wanted to get an abortion in Colorado, I'd have to prove that either (a) I would die or suffer permanent injury if I remained pregnant; (b) my fetus would be born with "severe" mental or physical retardation"; or (c) my pregnancy was the result of sexual assault or incest.  I couldn't get an abortion just because I didn't think I was fit to become a parent at that time.

But if some jerk wanted to get a gun in Colorado, they could walk into any gun shop and walk out with the weapon of their choice, with no question as to whether they were fit to own that gun or not.  And then they could shoot my kid with it. knows more about my book purchasing tendencies than the state of Colorado knew about the movie-theater shooter's weapons stockpiling.  My pharmacy knows more about the amount of pills I've been prescribed that could be used to manufacture crystal meth than the state of Colorado knew about the numbers of bullets the movie-theater shooter bought in mere months. 

Why do we allow higher-grade weapons than handguns into the general stream of commerce?  How can people argue that tear gas or an automatic weapon or 6,000 rounds of ammo or full body armor are legitimate items of home-based self-defense?  How has the gun lobby so high-jacked this issue?

I don't understand why politicians do seemingly nothing on this, other than that they seemingly do nothing on everything.  President Obama and Mitt Romney have both expressed heartfelt remorse at the tragedy, but I'm with Mayor Bloomberg.  I want to hear more.  I want to hear their position on gun laws.  I want to hear Congress come forward and tell us what they're going to do about the moribund assault weapons plan.  I want people to start talking about gun control at some time other than the aftermath of a gun-caused tragedy.

I want people to stop saying that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  It's not that I think that argument is stupid, it's just that the person who uses it probably is. 

Some may say that there are more important, more widely affecting issues that should occupy our politician's precious time than gun control.  I'm not sure.  The economy?  What good is a job that finally allows for some spending money if you can't go to the movies or buy some skittles without getting shot?  Education?  What good is school if you can't attend class without being cornered by a deranged madman?  Health care?  What good is your health if you are gunned down at work because a co-worker has a crazy husband?  Immigration?  How do we secure our borders if part of the reason they're so busy is all the gun-trafficking getting done thanks to Arizona gun shops?

Enough.  Enough high schools and college campuses on lockdowns.  Enough teenagers in hoodies shot dead on the sidewalk.  Enough Congresswomen used as target practice during political rallies. 

We need to get to work on something other than the next tribute we deliver after the next tragedy.   We need to get rid of the guns that aren't supposed to be in our hands.  Aren't supposed to be there under the Constitution, and aren't supposed to be there under common sense.

Because freedom can't be just another word for nothing left to shoot.

This is an AR-15 rifle.  Which may be the last thing that six-year-old girl saw before she was shot dead by the guy holding it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dark Night

I'm breaking the "Dear Abby" Friday tradition again today.  I can't really summon up creative or snarky juices this morning, and I don't really think I should try to.  It would feel inappropriate to take on any subject other than the horrific mass shooting that took place at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of Dark Knight Rises.  I am sure I will have something to say about this tragedy, but right now I'm just sad and confused and frustrated and angry and ashamed.  What's more, details are still emerging.

All we know right now is that at least twelve people have died and around sixty have been injured.  Among the injured are a 3-month-old baby and a 6-year-old. 

We know that dozens and dozens of people stayed up late to go see a movie.  To spend too much money on popcorn and Swedish Fish.  To watch good fight evil. 

They thought that good-versus-evil storyline was going to play out on the screen.  Instead, it played out in the aisles and staircases and balconies of the very theater in which they sat.  With evil personified as a 24-year-old gunman carrying three weapons and decked out with a gas mask and a Kevlar vest.  And good taking the form of every effort at survival we can imagine and every act of heroism we'll soon learn about.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Head Banging

My son has recently developed an adorably worrisome habit.  He assumes the crawl position, and then he bangs his forehead into his forearms.  The first time I saw him do this, I thought his neck just slipped or something logical like that.  After catching him do it a few more times, I realized he was doing it on purpose. 

If you catch your child doing something similar, might I suggest that you do NOT Google "head banging in babies."  Because then you will be accosted by multiple websites telling you that your child is definitely autistic.  Or has Dengue fever.  Or PMS.  But probably autism.

Needless to say, it's been an unsettling morning.

What none of those chipper medical offerings note, however, is that head banging is contagious.  Ever since my son started doing it, I haven't been able to stop.  I don't think it's my fault, though, and I don't think I've developed late-onset autism.  I blame the following external factors, listed in no particular order.

1.  Michele Bachmann.  This once and future Republican Presidential candidate and current Congresswoman from the State of Minnesota has gotten herself back in the headlines.  I guess her history of successful campaigns on issues such as "curing" gay people and proving that Obama isn't actually an American citizen keeps her confident.  And determined to expose the truth and bring the terrorists to justice and God Bless the United States of America. 

Her new cause celebre is outing Hillary Clinton's top aide in the State Department as a jihadist bent on toppling our esteemed government.  The woman in Ms. Bachmann's crosshairs is Huma Abedin, a Michigan-born woman who began working for Ms. Clinton in 1996 when the latter was First Lady.  Ms. Abedin happens to be Muslim.

Say no more, right, Michele?  In a bid to maximize the value of her time and the taxpayer-funded salary she draws, Ms. Bachmann drafted up a little missive to the attention of five federal agencies.  The letter demanded that those agencies investigate a "conspiracy" to influence American foreign relations for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist causes.  The letter cited Ms. Abedin as an example of these infiltrators, what with all her advising to Ms. Clinton and her hob-nobbing with her own family members WHO ARE ALSO MUSLIM.  You're welcome, America!

Or.  Or, Michele, you need to find some other way back into America's scorn bucket.  Start a crusade against broccoli for stealing the Chia pet's hair.  Or against the Olympics for allowing athletes other than Americans to compete.  Racism had its turn in this country's politics, and it wasn't fun.  Let's move on.  Also, Ms. Abedin is the wife of former NY Representative Anthony Weiner, the guy who had a little too much fun when he realized his phone had a camera that could snap pics of his manly bits.  She's got enough crazy on her plate.

2.  George Zimmerman.  George gave his first interview about his shooting of Trayvon Martin to Sean Hannity of Fox News.  Over the course of the interview, Zimmerman said he didn't regret anything about the night he killed the 17-year-old boy, and that it was "all God's plan."

And all this time I was alternating my frustrations among Zimmerman (a/k/a/ "the shooter"), the Sanford police, Stand Your Ground laws, and lax gun restrictions!  Silly me!  All this time it was God I should have been blaming.  God, God.  You call that a "plan"?  That kind of decision-making leads me to suspect that you are also (a) the guy who came up with mortgage-backed securities trading; (b) Adam Sandler's agent; and (c) calories.  Also, one or all of Dwight Howard, Donald Trump, and Michele Bachman.

3.  Dunkin' Donuts.  Today I decided to stop at DD's for my morning coffee and to buy my daughter a really well-rounded, nutritious breakfast.  I have been repeatedly too lazy to go to the ATM to withdraw cash (all those buttons and typing and stuff), so I paid with credit card.  When the friendly cashier handed me my receipt, I happened to glance at her name, which was printed at the top.  Her name was: Aalyx.  That's right:  Aalyx.

4.  Limes.  Tonight we're hosting a cook-out at our house for some of my friends from high school.  As with any type of reunion, I really want everything to be perfect so that all these blasts from the past can see how perfect I am and how perfect my life is.  I will look perfect, as will my children and house.  Of course.  Also, of course the food I cook will look and taste perfect.  It's a busy night for perfect.  (So stay OUT OF IT, God.  I don't need you messing things up for me.)

Anyway, last night I was making the chipotle mayo rub for the grilled corn on the cob we're serving.  The recipe called for 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice.  ON IT!  I spent several minutes squeezing drops of lime elixir from stubborn limes, giving my thumbs arthritis and my patience a real run for its money.  I was a whisper away from reaching the top of the 1/2 cup measuring cup when MY THUMBS SLIPPED AND THE LIME FELL OUT OF MY HANDS, KNOCKING OVER THE NEARLY FULL MEASURING CUP. 

Lime juice all over the countertop and floor.  Swears flying out of my mouth.  Daughter looking at me in undisguised horror.


5.  Cheerios.  Back to my son.  Who's totally sabotaging the house-perfect part of my master plan for tonight.  He's now old enough to let Cheerios dissolve in the region of his slobbery chin.  But his Cheerio-to-mouth ratio leaves a lot to be desired.  Somehow, when he paws a handful of Cheerios, the majority end up behind his ear or in his diaper or between his toes.  Or they land on the floor.  I will soon bear the official title "Hunchback of Southern Maine," what with all the hunting and gathering of Cheerios from our kitchen floor I do.

Well, I missed a Cheerio during dinner-time clean-up last night.  So when I came downstairs this morning, there was a pile -- yes, a pile -- of miniature Ants from Hell swarming that poor Cheerio. 


Hopefully, head banging cannot be transmitted electronically.  If you do develop symptoms, I'm sorry.  But I also disclaim all legal liability.  But I also am intrigued to hear what factors send you spiraling into an afternoon of head banging.  But I also am against commenting while driving.  So pull over and comment when you're not moving.  And really, you shouldn't have even read all the way to the bottom of this post from behind the wheel.  I appreciate the devotion, but really, shame on you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Frickin' Hot up Herrrre

Hot up, so hot up here! So hot up, hot, up!
With too much of, hot hot, and more of, hot hot
Just too much of, just too much of,
Just too much bit of, just too much of

I am like, good gracious, Maine’s spacious
Ocean-acious, one of the cold places
I'm wondr’in where’s the air mass to move this heat, you know
It better bring in a t-storm real soon, or
I'm leaving, please believing, oh!
Won’t come back ‘til the rest of the seasons
No joke, I got plenty of reasons
Hot house, hot kids, car I driving
No denying, can’t wear long sleeves and
No lying, I need temps to
Drop down down to the seventies
Save this girl from her sweating pores
Cause I feel like a puddle of juice
And I feel like offing myself, uh uh
And my bathing suit can serve as the noose
I’ve stretched it out so it’s loose. I said….

It's been so hot up here, so hot, I wanna take off all my clothes
I won’t, unless it’s dark, but I wanna take my clothes off
It's been so hot up here, so hot, I wanna take off all my clothes
I won’t, unless it’s dark, but I wanna take my clothes off

Uh, uh, uh, get your hand fan out!

Why the heat up here if this ain’t the tropics? c'mon
What good is muggy heat if they ain’t no palm trees
I have my fans, just plain fans, ain’t got no a/c
And I see one hundred on the ‘mostat, Fahrenheit in degrees
Get that sun out the sky, bring in the clouds and the rain
Cool breeze, shake trees, let’s just cool it

Parkas and gloves, have ‘em out and ready
I sweat buckets get cranky yeah I can’t take it
Sticky, sleepless, frying eggs on pavement
Wear tank tops, no other option
But my arms are too round and pale for that action
Prefer to leave ‘em hidden under a cardigan
That thing’s got me hot and botherin’
My face has a sheen that makes my mirror wince
My makeup streaks down my cheeks as sweat is beading
Yells "Girl you need some Pond’s moist wipes!"


I am all sweated out
Dab a little bit of
Mop a little bit of
Let it just sweat out
Dab a little bit of
Mop a little bit of
Let it sweat all out
Mop a little bit of
Hand fan some of that
Let it just sweat out
I hate it when it’s, ah
Hot, please make it

Stop blazing, sun scorching
I need a home reno to add central a/c, what?
I'm penny-pinching like Wal-Mart, oh
But this might force me to it
Congress, Congress, eh, drop my taxes, oh please
Abby’s kids can’t sleep in sweat pools no more
Gotta get cool for the quality sleep, complete with snores
Or she’ll be tired-hot, so homicidal, oh

[Chorus; x2]

I am all sweated out
Dab a little bit of
Mop a little bit of
Let it just sweat out
Dab a little bit of
Mop a little bit of
Let it sweat all out
Mop a little bit of
Hand fan some of that
Let it just sweat out
I hate it when it’s, ah
Hot, please make it [STOP!]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wishing for A Star

Well, it's official.

Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez think they can do more than judge talent.  They think they can show it off. 

The talent under discussion their own.  Mr. Tyler thinks the world needs more grandfathers screaming into a totem pole of scarves.  Ms. Lopez thinks the world needs more Spanglish dance tracks and fluffy movies about a beautiful woman overcoming the limitations of her beauty to land a beautiful guy and a beautiful life.  And American Idol, that Fox juggernaut that re-launched their respective careers and reminded the generations that Once Upon A Time, these two were relevant superstars?  Well, thank you very much, American Idol.  But now you're just getting in the way of all that screeching and thudding and pouting.  Step aside.

Yup.  Steve-o and J-Lo are leaving Idol.  Speculation is high that Randy "Yo-Dawg" Jackson will leave the judge's table as well, most likely to act as the behind-the-scenes mentor.  So that he can flail his hands and throw out empty phrases of non-advice in the intimacy of a fake recording room.

With this clearing of the decks, speculation is equally rampant as to who will replace that trio.  The most bandied-about name is that of Mariah Carey.  Others in the rumored mix include Kanye West, with Aretha Franklin and Charlie Sheen taking the initiative to throw their own hats in the ring.

Ummmm.  No.  Fox?  Nigel?  Listen to me.  None of those options are good.

From a business perspective, each of the contenders/pretenders is a powder keg of liability.  Your insurance premiums would go through the roof.  Mariah invented the "exhaustion" defense, Kanye can't walk into a 7-11 without complaining about his spot in the line for slushies, Aretha Franklin is too old, and Charlie Sheen is everything I shouldn't have to type here.

From a watchability perspective, they fare almost worse.  Mariah's commentary would be undecipherable because of all the fluttery hand gestures and vocal gymnastics she'd force into every "I'm so proud of you."  We wouldn't even be able to see her, what with the twins and Nick Cannon sitting on her lap.  And most people now just associate her with Weight Watchers and perfume.  Which will only make the audience hungry and inspire them to shower.  Not sit and watch her wimper.

Kanye would be angry at everyone for everything, and there'd always be a Kardashian around.  Aretha would inspire too much growling, and Charlie would make overtures to the younger female set that would make Steven Tyler himself blush.

Not good, Fox/Nigel.  Not good.

I understand there are basic formulaic realities at play.  There needs to be at least one female judge.  There needs to be an industry veteran.  There needs to be someone who can be kind of harsh.  There needs to be someone trying to stake out a comeback.  There needs to be someone who leaves the audience guessing as to whether or not that someone is under the influence of one or multiple non-prescription narcotics.  I get it.

So let's stick within your framework.  We can still make this work.  Fox/Nigel?  Get your pen out.

Here's what your next panel of judges should look like:

1.  Jimmy Iovine.  This is easy.  Just promote him from the coaching/mentoring/analysis slot you've had him fill the past few seasons and put him in a judge's seat.  He knows the show, and he knows the music.  He provides insightful, call-it-like-you-see-it commentary that is sometimes the only thing that resonates with the audience at home.  He's got pedigree and a proven track record.  He can be both mean and incredibly complimentary.  He doesn't have stupid trick phrases.  When he doesn't have anything to say, he does this thing called he stops talking.  Genius.

2.  Justin Timberlake.  This, too, is easy.  Legions of fans would tune into the show just to watch Justin.  He understands how to build a complete entertainment package, is gifted beyond belief, and is incredibly personable.  He'd click with the contestants, with the other judges, with the mentors, everyone.  And while his commentary would usually border on the fluffy-soft, he'd surprise us all with flashes of brilliant advice and withering criticism that would always keep us on the edge of our oversized couches. 

3.  Janet Jackson.  This is fun.  Both because it reunites Nipplegate and because Janet fills a lot of the demographics you're looking for in a judge.  Female.  Kind of crazy.  Industry veteran.  Plus, she's a lot like J. Lo in that she's gorgeous, would probably cry a lot, would pick random outliers as her favorites, and would really appreciate the show as a vehicle for her commercial redemption.  She's also performed on the show, which is more I can say for Mariah "Diva Come Lately" Carey. 

That's just my take.  But what do I know? 

Tell me, fair reader.  Who do you think should be given the keys to FOX's 8-10PM EST Wednesday/Thursday time slot from September-July?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Putting the Sub in Urban

A typical weekend night for my husband and I looks a lot like a typical week night for my husband and I.  After the kids are in bed, we stay up as late as our eyelids will allow, usually doing a combination of reading/watching ridiculous television.  My eyelids usually slam shut around the respectable hour of 9PM -- the time most adults are nearing the end of a meal or just gearing up for the evening's activities.

I know.  I am THAT fun.

This weekend, though, was different.  This weekend, Saturday night called for us to get our game faces on.  And our "uniforms."  For this past Saturday night, we competed in the inaugural Suburban Beer Pong Championship.

The event was hosted by a couple we are friends with -- I actually went to high school with both of them and now we have children around the same age.  They set up a huge white tent in their back yard, laid out 8 pong tables, amassed huge quantities of red solo cups, and commandeered three kegs.  All so that 32 couples could get their Pong on.

The ringmaster of this event is Party Planner Extraordinaire, working in beautiful harmony his wife.  Some people might call them the Martha Stewart/Ty Pennington/Mindy Weiss trifecta of Southern Maine.  And those people would be right.  (Except that I'm pretty sure neither Husband nor Wife would look kindly upon insider trading, unless it's of the household chore variety.)

Together, Husband and Wife ran a seamless event, complete with a winner's circle, prizes, bracketology, a soundtrack, and the most delicious ice cream cake that came shrink-wrapped in heavy duty plastic.  So really, they've got better ideas than Martha. 

Their only real mistake was inviting me.  Because there are two very important things that should disqualify me from most parties, but especially one centered around beer pong.

Thing One:  I have never played beer pong.

Thing Two:  I have never finished a beer.

So there was me and then there were about 60 other people more well-suited for the evening's events.  Here's who some of them were.

I'm With Stupid:  This would be my husband.  He was there with me (a/k/a "Stupid").  Our team name (yes, these were required) was Tropic Thunder.  Our uniform (also required) consited of Wal-Mart's finest Hawaiian shirts.  I topped my look off with big flower earrings and sandals.  My husband wore Corona flip-flops and khaki shorts. 

We looked like we should have been serving pina coladas to the mid-life crisis crowd.  And between the two of us, the most we can boast of in the way of hand-eye coordination is being quick with a computer mouse.  Needless to say, we lost in shameless fashion in the first round.

The Good Doctor:  This guy came to the party dressed as a douchebag from Jersey.  His costume was so good that it didn't even look like a costume.  He was transcendent.  Big-muscled arms (c/o P90X, rumor has it), stenciled-in tattoos (one, of course, the barbed-wire wrap-around arm thing, the other an anchor), low-slung baggy jeans that showed just enough of his boxer briefs, and a sleeveless white undershirt (what some less PC than I might call a "wife beater").  He grew out his facial hair so that he could shave the perfect chin curtain, and he found the most perfect pair of sunglasses to wear perched on his closely-shaved head.  The only thing missing from his ensemble was a bicycle suitable for an 8-year-old but with chromed everything.  To look at him was to lose consonants from your alphabet, degrees from your education, and privileges from your child visitation schedule.

In his real life, the man is a highly-respected orthopedic surgeon.  Which means this girl will be taking extra-special care of her musculoskeletal system.  After Saturday night, I'm not sure I could let him approach me with even a stethoscope.

The High School Sweethearts: This is another couple I went to high school with, and I think they began dating sometime around my first middle school dance.  They're the kind of pair to dominate a list of superlatives.  Between them they'd clean up on all the categories for smarts, athletics, and personality.  Probably smile, too.  Definitely out of contention for the Most Likely To Cross the Country in a VW Van (literally a category in my senior yearbook).

They showed up on Saturday with gluten-free beer and without a costume.  What they lacked in wheat and whimsy, they made up for in competitiveness.  This duo was in it to win it.  Normally friendly and mild-mannered, they were a screaming, swearing, booty-shaking, high-fiving dynamic duo the likes of which Maine has not seen since Rick Charette got together with The Bubble Gum Band

Gauntlet-throwing was their specialty, and their march to victory was only derailed when Mr. Sweetheart got a little too exuberant in his booty-shaking and knocked over a full solo cup, giving their competition a go-ahead knock-out. 

For the rest of the night, every time I saw him, he just shook his head and yelled something about not appreciating the size of his own behind.  Then he punched an empty keg and walked into the woods for some alone time.

The Spartans:  This couple was the opposite of The High School Sweethearts in that they came in full costume, WITH a choreographed dance to boot.  They played the Spartans cheerleaders from the famous SNL skits featuring Will Ferrell.  There was a lot of scissor-kicking and "who-hoos!"  They kind of made the event almost like the Olympics.  If the Olympics involved more beer and more parents of young children.

The Newlyweds:  These were youngsters that should not, in my mind, have been allowed to participate.  They were recently married and did not have any children.  They kept telling everyone about how they DO HAVE DOGS!  Which just made everyone want to vomit down their back and ask them questions about butterflies and trains all night long without ever changing the pitch or tone of the question.  They were toned and fit in the way that young people without children are.  They were also tan.  And happy in the bouncy sort of way.  They were also affectionate in the "I still think it's cute the sofa is molded to his reclined position" sort of way.

Naturally, most of the rest of the crowd didn't like them much.

Naturally, they made it to the finals. 

The Who Invited Them?:  This was the couple to end all couples.  A couple who stood out in a sea of competitors who in a mere 6 hours would be reminding short, intemperate small people to use their listening ears and to stop using the landline phone as a baseball bat. 

The male half of this couple was actually tame.  At least in relative terms.  I don't even have anything remarkable to say about him other than who he brought as his date.

Oh, his date.  Because of course this duo wasn't even married.  In fact, the grapevine reported that they'd broken up just prior to the party.  Which only further cemented their status as middle-schoolers at a party for political science grad students.

The Date had bleach blond hair with kinks in it.  Kinks like the ones you used to aim for when you braided your wet hair at night and then unveiled in the morning for those curls that didn't look quite natural but also didn't look quite chemically induced.  Those kinks were held back by a bright white cotton headband.

Her body was only barely held back by a leotard/sports bra/legging composition circa Jane Fonda's jazzercise years.  Breasts and both halves of her derriere kept on popping out from her side of the pong table for all the watching world to see.  Mostly because she kept on pulling down or pulling up her attire to expose those body parts.

Yes, this was a gal who didn't just coat-check her acid-washed denim jacket at the door.  She checked all semblance of modesty and whatever shred of dignity she walks around with in her daily life.  Which I'm guessing probably isn't much anyway.  She looked so comfortable molesting her side of the table that I'm left only to conclude that she spends her working hours molesting a pole.  Not of the fireman variety.

When her tongue wasn't suggestively wagging and her booty wasn't rhythmically gyrating, she was heckling, swearing and flashing.  Slowly but surely, the tides turned against her and her antics.  Probably because her act was so torrid that the parents in the audience (which, again, constituted 99% of the crowd) felt like they were disgracing their children just by being in the presence of such impropriety.  I think I can speak for all of us when I report that I went home and upped the parental controls on all of our electronics, for fear that my participation in an event with the likes of this gal made the entire ecosystem of my home vulnerable to attacks from smut.

Girl fights were in the offing.  Prominent PTA figures were drafting resolutions to never let bleach blonds within 20 yards of school grounds.  Janet Jackson officially passed the Nipplegate mantle.

Naturally, this duo beat The Newlyweds to hoist the championship trophy over their empty heads.

Naturally, the crowd reacted by quietly backpeddling towards their minivans and riding home to the sweet sounds of Disney Princess Classics, Volume I, shaking their heads and vowing never, EVER to let their daughter demean herself or her body so as to gain a competitive advantage.

Unless it helps the family score tickets to (a) Justin Bieber's next concert; (b) The Polar Express Journey to the North Pole in North Conway; or (c) Miley Cyrus' wedding.

Friday, July 13, 2012

In The Lions' Den

Recent protocol on this blog has called for me to write a "Dear Abby" post on Fridays.  It's a post for me to respond to a comment or question or suggestion from a reader.  The protocol is a self-imposed one that I have followed to give some structure to my week and some guideposts to my writing, not to mention some way for me to interact more directly with the wonderful people who read this blog.

The thing about protocols, though, is that they're necessarily artificial.  They're imposed to provide some sort of organizational efficiency.  They're grounded in the notion that perspective teaches such-and-such steps would be a reasonable way to approach X situation or respond to Y crisis or react to Z challenge.  And that's all well and good. 

The thing about protocols, though, is they're not law.  They're not the laws of the state, they're not the laws of nature, and they're not the laws of humanity.  Protocol can be broken.  Indeed, protocol should be broken when some other law requires that it should be.

In the very insignificant sphere of protocols that this blog occupies, protocol needs to be broken today.  Because in the much more significant sphere of protocol that Penn State University operated at the time Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys in PSU showers and at PSU football events, protocol wasn't broken.  Protocol was maintained.  Protocol was embraced.  Protocol was used to protect a football program, shield a legend, and coddle a predator.

Yesterday, Judge Louis Freeh publicly released the 276-page report on the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal that Freeh's Special Investigative Counsel prepared.  The report has been summarized by countless media outlets, and I'm going to assume you've gotten the basic gist of it by now.  If you haven't, a quick summary:  Joe Paterno, Penn State's then-head football coach, and his administrative cohorts in the Athletic Department and University President's office, effectively concealed the allegations -- if not the very facts of -- Sandusky's suspected abuse of young boys.  If, for example, Paterno had gone beyond the strict bounds of what "protocol" told him to do (ie. report an incident to his superiors and then wash his hands of it) repeat instances of that abuse may have been prevented.

I have now read most of the report.  Its details are both amazing and revolting:  Sandusky being told on multiple occasions to stop bringing young boys to the Penn State locker room showers.  Sandusky agreeing to stop and then starting to do it all over again.  Paterno's suggestion that, instead of advising authorities of the allegations, that the Penn State Atheltic Director simply warn Sandusky he needed to get help, or else.  Second Mile (the charity Sandusky founded and ran for troubled young boys) being advised of Sandusky's reported rape of a young boy and concluding it was a "non-incident."

Given the density of the report and the complexities of the allegations, professional relationships, and extended cover-up, there are countless reactions to have.  Indeed, my own reactions are countless.  But I want to talk about some of my biggest ones here.

First, a more legal perspective. 

Yesterday, Joe's son, Jay, gave an interview to ESPN.  Throughout the scandal, the Paterno family has stood behind its now-deceased patriarch.  The family insists Joe Paterno had no idea Sandusky was a predator, and that while he ultimately wished he had done more, there were no facts at the time of the allegations that compelled him to do anything but report up the chain.  Despite the details of the Freeh report, Jay Paterno maintained that position in yesterday's interview.  He essentially dismissed the import of the Freeh report by calling it "basically an opinion."

Not so much, Jay.  Sorry.  The Freeh report itself exhaustively explains the independence it enjoyed throughout its investigation and the extent of its review.  Neither the Board nor the University administration was allowed to -- nor tried to -- direct or influence the Special Investigative Counsel.  The team reviewed millions of pages of documents, including contemporaneous emails and hand-written notes.  The team interviewed all relevant witnesses other than the criminally-implicated (who wouldn't speak on the advice of counsel) or the deceased (Joe Paterno).  The ultimate report relayed the facts it uncovered and, where a direct fact was not available, the report arrived at "reasonable conclusions."

That's the way an internal investigation works.  I've never worked on one of the PSU-Sandusky scandal's scope, but I've worked on others for large companies or institutions where serious legal, ethical, or financial misjudgments are alleged.  And I can attest to the fact that these types of investigations are rigorously independent, methodical, and exacting.  The team is hired by the most independent body of the entity under investigation -- usually its Board of Directors/Trustees -- and then given unfettered access to every rung of that entity.  Everyone has to talk  Everyone has to turn over documents.  Everyone has to let their hard drives get imaged.  Et cetera.

The lawyers cull those massive amounts of information and boil it down to a report.  The report is not meant to be a piece of persuasive argument, a summary of the law, or a guess as to what happened.  It is only meant to be a strict, contained presentation of the facts.  That's it.  To the extent a conclusion has to be reached, that conclusion must be one supported by the documentary evidence, the witness statements, and the most sound logic.

So, do I believe the Freeh report?  Absolutely.  Do I trust the "reasonable conclusions" it arrives at?  Certainly.  Do I understand why Jay Paterno wouldn't want me to; why he doesn't want to?  Definitely.  But Jay is biased.  The Special Investigative Committee was not.

That said, I will credit Jay's related point that the Freeh report is not the same as evidence put forth and adjudicated in a court of law.  The Freeh report contains evidence that perhaps wouldn't come in under Pennsylvania's rules of evidence, and none of the witness testimony was sworn to under oath.  Fine, Jay.  Fine.

So what?

As a lawyer, I am proud of what the law can do.  But I am also, perhaps more than most, disappointed at what and who the law can fail.  I recognize the unfortunate reality that there are legal truths and there are human truths, and sometimes those truths diverge.

A jury has already found Sandusky guilty on 45 of the 48 counts of child abuse that were brought against him.  Some of the facts used to convict him are the same facts at work in the Freeh report.  So to an extent, Jay's "opinion" theory is self-destructive.

Even putting that aside, the report-versus-trial comparison is a red herring.  The evidence cited in the Freeh report is still evidence, even if it would not be admissible in a court of law.  Trials do their best to allow for only a fair presentment of facts to determine whether a law has been broken.  Those laws are precise, as are the rules dictating what evidence can come in.  Somewhere along the way, facts and figures that would persuade someone in conversation may not be allowed into the dialogue of a trial.  Or those facts and figures are allowed in, but the jury that hears them is swayed by their personal affinity for a defendant or a particular lawyer, or it is constrained by a technicality that does not allow it to rule as it otherwise would.

Think of O.J. Simpson.  He was acquitted of murder, but I don't think anyone would encourage their blond sister to goad him into an argument over a steak dinner.  The law can dictate one judgment, but basic human instinct can dictate a very different one.

So too here.  With the Freeh report, we have arguably the most complete picture of the Penn State response to Jerry Sandusky's pattern of abuse.  And while that report cannot stand as a legal condemnation of the actors involved, it can and should serve as a human condemnation of them and their failure to act.  Maybe Joe Paterno and his cohorts followed the Penn State administrative manual to the letter.  Maybe the Pennsylvania Penal Code does not have a section for cold-heartedness, calculated myopia, or a stunning lack of empathy.  Again, so what?

I, for one, could care less if a Pennsylvania court convicts anyone other than Sandusky of anything.  I have already convicted the Penn State authorities -- including Joe Paterno -- of acting in a deplorable way.  Of protecting a football program by leaving young boys vulnerable to a lion's prey.  Of crimes against humanity -- whether or not those crimes are spelled out in a state's criminal statute or code.  And I will point to the Freeh report as my evidence with supreme confidence.

While my fellow ladies and gentlemen of the social jury appear to agree with me, we seem to have parted ways regarding what comes next.  Most of the reaction I hear now is an argument over what the Freeh report means to Joe Paterno's legacy.  There are Joe Paterno apologists and Joe Paterno antagonists.  All his wins, all the money the football team brought to the school, all the strong student-athlete graduation rates.  Stacked up against all the nights he went to bed knowing Sandusky might be prowling the shower stalls with little boys too scared to cry out.  The debate seems to go round-and-round, with no end in sight.

The debate is unfortunate.  It risks making the same mistake Penn State made during Sandusky's campaign of terror.  It makes football the story.

This is not just a football story.  This is not just a story about a long-standing coach being taken down by a long-standing abdication of duty.  This is about so much more than that.

This is about our country's infatuation with sports and the men who play them.  This is about our willingness to let fame, power, and prestige trump decency, responsibility, and perspective.  This is about playing a game defined by rules until other rules are bent so that other rules can be broken.

This is about kids who trusted the adults that claimed to be working for their betterment, that claimed to be their mentors, that claimed to be helping them build a brighter tomorrow.  This is about kids whose trust was broken at the exact same minute their spirits were.

The national discourse in the aftermath of the Penn State scandal should not focus on whether or not Joe Paterno's statue on the Penn State campus comes down.  It should focus on how to recognize the signs of child sex abuse.  How to identify a child predator.  And how to help a suspected victim of a suspected predator.  Not with the benefit of hindsight or the shame of an institutional downfall.  But with the reflexive instinct of a strong safety, the speed of a punt returner, the strength of an offensive lineman, the accuracy of a quarterback, and the tenacity of a coach.

Because the only role football should maintain in this aftermath is an illustrative one.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Isn't It Ironic

Just over a week ago, I wrote a post about the work-life balance conundrum.  I wrote about how my life used to look like a see-saw in the up-down position, and how today it looks like a see-saw ridden by twins of nearly equal weight with their tippy-toes on the ground.  So a reader could have gotten the impression that I've gotten closer to figuring things out.

I guess I have.  Gotten closer.  Sort of.  My life isn't so out of whack.  But I still struggle with the fundamental question of whether I should be a mom who works outside the home, or if I should "just" be a mom who works in the home.  Should I be winning the bread and making some bacon in the proverbial sense, or just the literal?

It's a question that is always lurking in dark places and waiting to jump out from behind a corner to scare the bejeezus out of me.  I usually do a pretty good job of avoiding the sketchy alleys and bad neighborhoods where I run a greater risk of confronting the issue.  But this past week, I've been getting brutally assaulted, even in perfect daylight.  Because life can sometimes be kind of a catty brat.  And a felon.

Last night, I had to have some one-on-one time.  As in time with just one person.  Unfortunately, that person was Me.  Here's what Me and I discussed.

Me:  You've had quite a week.  Come-uppances from both of your children and attitude from your friends of the forest.  Are you sure you're ready to talk to the likes of Me?

I:  Not if you're going to refer to yourself in the third person.  Also, did you hear that I saw TWO baby woodchucks on the lawn this afternoon, and watched them flip me the bird before they scampered to their Den of Iniquity under the shed?

Me: I know about the woodchucks.  I was there, too.  Remember?  Are the woodchucks what have you all in a twist?

I:  Well, they are exasperating.  But no, it's more than that.

Me:  You might as well tell me now.  Otherwise, I'll just give you a headache.  And convince you to drink pineapple-flavored coconut water.

I:  You know I don't like that!  Okay, okay.  I'm just, like, con--con--con--sumed with guilt about having The Son in daycare.

Me:  I don't know why you're trying to hold back the tears.  I like a good cry just as much as you do.  Go ahead. 

I:  (deep breath, quivering lips, unattractive whining) It's just that he's not napping well there anymore and he seems fussier and I think it's just because he's teething but I feel like I should be taking care of him and I should be there to put him down in his own crib and keeping him on his schedule.

Me:  This might not be the right time, but I'd like to point out that was a terribly punctuated sentence.

I:  And I feel like he's taking a knock on account of my job which isn't really all that important of a job and I don't know if I'm being selfish by doing that kind of irrelevant job at the expense of his being in institutionalized care.

Me:  This might not be the right time, but have you ever considered institutionalized care for yourself?

I:  And then to top it all off, today when I went to get him there was a big sign posted on the door to his room that there was a CONFIRMED CASE OF CHICKEN POX and I got handed this brochure on how contagious chicken pox is and what the warning signs are and how long it lasts and how he has to be basically quarantined if he gets it and oh my God.

Me:  Oh, my God.

I:  I know!   Oh, my God!

Me:  I don't think we're "oh my God'ing" the same things.

I: So now I'm just an idiot with a stupid job who's neglecting her baby and submitting him to a life of irregular and non-restorative naps as well as highly-communicable diseases.

Me:  You should probably stop writing on topics that make you appear to have your shit together.  Because you don't.  You don't have your shit together.

I:  Hey!  We're working on not swearing!  I just don't know what to do about all this.  I'm wracked with guilt and I feel completely lost.  I mean, am I just over reacting...

Me:  This might not be the right time, but probably you absolutely are definitely over-reacting.

I: ....or is this I sign that I'm just making a big mistake and I should be at home, on call for nap-monitoring and virus prevention.

Me:  You are considering giving up a job you have previously described as "the best possible scenario as far as going back to work" so that The Son can nap for predictable intervals?

I:  Well, I mean, yeah.  Kind of.  I mean, naps are a big deal at his age.  Soon it will become something else that I'm screwing up for him.  I mean, shouldn't I be at home to keep his life -- not to mention The Daughter's life -- as even-keeled as possible?  Instead of bouncing them from one caregiver to the next?  All so that I can add indemnification clauses to contracts?

Me:  If you say "I mean" one more time, I'm going to make you try a push-up again.  Now, I mean this in the nicest way possible, but do you really think having you at home would make your children's lives more "even-keeled"?

I:  Why does something underhandedly unkind always follow "I mean this in the nicest way possible"?  I mean...oh, sorry.  I know that I am not necessarily even-keeled, but having me as the primary and constant caregiver would at least provide more consistency.  And they could be in their own home more.  The Son could nap in his crib.  I'd know the details of their every day.  I'd be more of a mother.  Right? 

Me:  Well, so, what's stopping you?

I:  I'm scared to walk away from what I do recognize is a pretty healthy set-up.  If I give up on this job, will I ever get a job like this again?  Am I saying good-bye to my life as a lawyer?  Can I really DO the stay-at-home mom thing indefinitely?  And how much would we miss the paycheck?  Would I feel like other working moms are passing me by?  Would I start to resent the fact that I gave up another part of  my life to devote myself almost completely to my role as The Mother?

Me:  The questions you're asking on both sides of this issue are unanswerable.  You should consider contacting the Pentagon.  This is all shaping up as a pretty reliable form of torture.

I:  Well, I don't want to be overly dramatic, but it sure feels like water-boarding to me!  I know that I can't answer these questions.  Again, I think I've identified that as a significant part of the problem.  Now you're telling me you can't answer them either.  Which calls into question the point of this entire conversation.  But I have to believe, if the American public can be hoodwinked into so many versions of the same Spiderman movie, that there has got to be SOMEONE who can give me, if not an answer, then at least some insight.  There must be.

Me:  Okay.  Let's think about it.  I don't think Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are trustworthy resources on this particular issue.  But maybe other mothers?  Even other fathers.  Actually, any human who has been conflicted about their job could probably give you some pretty good feedback.

I:  Both good points.  Emma and Andrew are too attractive for problem-solving in the real world.  But those other categories of merer mortals could probably chime in.  If only I had a forum for reaching out to other mothers and fathers and humans.....

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rough Translation

I am pleased to report that there were no sightings of woodland creatures in our backyard last night, nor did any turn up in the Havahart trap we returned to its busy corner of our shed. 

Sometimes persuasive speaking really does work.  Dwight Howard.

I did, however, have a deer bound out in front of my car this morning during my drive to the gym.  But that deer bounded out of someone else's woods, which aren't really all that close to my woods.  And that bounding deer did not get hit by my car.  So really, not my problem.

Given the veritable roll I am on, I decided to sit down, mom-o a son-o, with my 9-month-old.  He's been going through what I like to call a rough patch recently.  Said rough patch is hallmarked by near-constant fussing during the hours he's awake, and abrupt, screeching announcements (by him) that he is no longer asleep.  Those announcements have been coming in the 4AM-5AM range the past few mornings. 

No one is enjoying this patch.  Patches of the strawberry -- even cabbage -- variety are far superior. 

There are only so many toys I can try to distract him with.  Only so many dissolvable fake crackers I can offer him.  Only so many oral analgesics I can apply.  Only so many tunes I can hum shout to drown out the noise of his wailing as I try to prepare dinner or negotiate multi-party NBA trades.

So we talked.  And here's what we said.  Or at least, here's my best translation of what he said.  (Not to brag, but I'm much better at talking than he is.)

Me:  All right!  All right!  All riiiigggghhhtttttt!  What! Is! Your! Problem???!???

Son: Whoa.  Mom.  Let me answer that by asking you this: what is YOUR problem?!?

Me:  (choking back gentle but angry tears) I'm's just that....I'm spent.  Remember how much I love you when I tell you this: you are driving me crazy.  I don't know what to do with you.  I pile toys in front of you and you don't want them.  I tuck you in to every comfortable contraption your father and would let me buy, and you don't like them.  I'm going to make you assume you have an eating disorder with all the different ways I try to bribe you to eat.  You maintain your hunger fast.  The only thing that calms you down is me carrying you around on my hip.

Son:  And that's not convenient for you?

Me:  "Convenient" is not the word I would use, no.  I mean, sometimes it's okay and you're cute and all, but I'm not a kangaroo.  It's not like I can stash you somewhere and still have relatively full functionality.  And I'm not comfortable having you flailing at my side when I do things like open oven doors, slice onions, or wash my face.  But at the rate we're going, my next job will be Abby The Amazing Acrobat, a traveling circus act I perform from a high-wire while carrying the Jolie-Pitt children, brushing my teeth and preparing bananas flambe.

Son:  Well thanks a lot, mom.  I'm glad you appreciate our together time.  Jeesh.  I'll just find another hip that's happier to have me.

Me:  No, no, no!  I do appreciate our together time.  What you've got to understand, though, is together time is something peaceful and blissful and worthy of an annoying Facebook post.  What we have been doing lately is not that.  It's crisis management.  It's applying a band-aid to a stab wound. 

Son:  Well, if you think you're so smart, what do you want to do about all this.  Huh?  HUH?

Me:  You watch your tone, mister.  And stop clapping your hands above your head.  This is serious.

Son:  Fine.  Bring me closer to you so that I can grab some of your hair and concentrate.

Me:  Better?  Okay.  Ow!  Anyway, what we need to do is get down to the root cause of what's making you behave this way.  I have my own theory.  I think you need to sleep more.  You're not napping as well as you usually do, and  you're waking up way, WAY too early in the morning.  You need to stop that.  Enjoy your sleep.  Luxuriate in it.  In a few short decades you'll consider moving to Spain because it will risk national bankruptcy even if it means maintaining a "siesta" hour in the middle of the workday.  The Nap Years go by in a blink.  You've got to embrace them while they're yours.

Son: MBEEEEHHHHH!  Wrong answer!  That's not the problem!  The problem is deeper than that.  Gosh.  What DOES it take to become a parent?

Me:  That's a conversation we'll have in 15 years.  Or never.  Definitely not right now.

Son:  Whatever.  The problem isn't the sleeping...

Me: NOT sleeping.  The NOT sleeping.

Son.  Okay, the problem isn't the not sleeping, it's what's preventing me FROM sleeping. 

Me:  I'm intrigued.  Go on.....

Son:  The problem is these frigging teeth that all want to join the party at the same time.  They're KILLING ME!  I push out those bottom two, and that was bad enough.  But before I can even say ADAHHHHHH, I've got these top two coming down.  Then in the time it takes you to overheat a bottle, I've got the two beside those ones knocking at the door.  How much can one infant take?  This is torture!

Me:  But I give you every plastic thing you could possibly fit in your mouth!  I've let you gnaw on cold beer bottles.  Slathered your gums with ointments.  And nothing.  You act like it's nothing!  If you were old enough for emotions beyond happy, cranky, and death-defying, I'd call you ungrateful!  What more do you want?

Son:  A little understanding wouldn't hurt here.  Try being a little sympathetic, perhaps.  It's a lot for this body to deal with.  I'm barely equipped to grasp a Cheerio, and here I am being asked to push teeth through bone.  You just sit there and watch and act all proud and excited when they finally break through the gum-line, but I'm the one doing all the work.  I'm the one suffering all the pain.  And you won't even grant me a little squawk of discomfort every now and all the time?

Me:  Oh come on.  It's not that bad.  It's what your body is made to do.  Buck up!  Appreciate what I'm doing for you and just tone down the hysterics.  Could you please?

Son:  Oh sure.  I'll do that.  I'll use you as my example in martyrdom.

Me:  Is that sarcasm I'm detecting?  I'm both proud and nervous.

Son:  I'd like to take you back 9 months, to September 23, 2011.  On that morning, you were engaged in a process I like to call gifting me to the world.  Others might call it childbirth.  The process your body was made to perform.  Think about what you're telling me, and compare that with your behavior on that little morning.  I'll give you some time for your reflections.


Me:  Do you want to try your first scoop of ice cream?!???!!!!