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Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Abby: Details, Please

I have previously alluded to the fact that I had a hard time getting pregnant with my son. A reader asked for me to discuss that experience.  And I say, what happier way to spend a Friday morning!

I present to you this week's installment of Dear Abby, which could be appropriately subtitled The Years of Frantic Thinking.

The facts are these: My daughter turned 1 in May 2009. Soon thereafter, my husband and I decided that we should start trying to get pregnant with our second child. This decision was motivated in large part by my desire to have our children close together. My sisters and I are each two years apart, and I loved growing up together in a pack. I also figured that, given the demands of my job at the time, it would be more "efficient" to shuttle my children through their life's milestones in relative proximity. I suppose I was also motivated to get going because it took me about 8 months to get pregnant with my daughter, so I knew the results were not guaranteed to come quickly.

They didn't.

In November 2009, I went to my ob/gyn and complained about the delay. He was very nice, but kind of patted me on the head and told me to shush. He said 6 months wasn't a long time, that everything would be fine, and I should fret no more. He did, however, find a few things "wrong" with me, which would be best addressed with medicine he could prescribe me. If the medicine did nothing to help me, he compromised, at that point he would refer me to an infertility doctor.

I was only partly reassured. I was glad, I guess, that he didn't think the lag-time was a big deal. In a bizarre way, I was also relieved he found an issue that he thought required medication, because I hoped that problem was The Problem and that the medicine would be The Fix.

Nope. Took the medicine for a couple weeks, waited a couple weeks more. Nothing.

Off to Dr. Infertility. He talked to me a lot about my past pregnancy, my current struggles, and other medical history. He patted my hand, told me he understood how frustrating this was, and promised we'd figure out a gameplan.

My heart swooned. He was talking action. He wasn't telling me to calm down and wait it out until some magical one-year anniversary of unsuccess passed. We were going to solve this riddle.

And so began regular appointments at his office for exams, tests, drawing blood, ultrasounds. I took more medicine orally. I started ordering syringes full of medicine for delivery to my apartment, which I then self-administered.

On the one hand, I liked the routine. I liked the concrete steps, the forward march, the to-do list. Where so much of me felt completely powerless over my own body, it was soothing to focus my energies on small, graspable tasks.

On the other hand, I was devastated by the routine. The number and occasional extent of the things I had to do and let be done to myself were visible evidence of how powerless over my body I, in fact, was. And all those appointments and blood tests and ultrasounds searching for signs of a baby that was never there were heart-breaking and completely, emotionally exhausting.

Every month followed a similar pattern. It began with a calendar. The calendar told my doctor and I when we'd time certain medications. Then I would purchase said medications. Then I would administer them. Then my husband and I became science's lab rats in the privacy of our apartment. Then I went back to my doctor for confirmation of what my at-home pregnancy test had already told me. Not pregnant.

Then I got up off the gurney in the examination room, managed a polite smile in the direction of my nurse, got dressed, and walked to work. Where I spent the day dealing with other people's legal problems and trying not to think too much about the fact that I couldn't deal with my own biological ones.

This went on for almost a year - probably 11 months or so. Every month - EVERY MONTH - that I confirmed my non-pregnancy was a crushing blow. In fact, they became more crushing because I became more desperate. Why wasn't anything working? What was I doing wrong? What am I willing to do next? If everyone is telling me it will happen when it is supposed to, but it never happens, does that mean it is never supposed to happen? What does that say about me as a woman, and as a mother?

Throughout it all, my husband remained optimistic and relatively even-keeled. He understood my sadness and never judged me for it. He was as supportive as he could be. And my disappointment was his as well; we both wanted this baby, and we both weren't getting it.

That being said, I felt uniquely alone the entire time. This, despite my husband's steadiness and my mother and sisters' daily pep talks. I felt as though my body was betraying me -- as though my brain was operating on some separate plane as everything from the neck down. My thinking self was so angry at my reproductive self. It was a civil war being waged underneath my skin, and I couldn't turn my attention away from it.

And yes, every time - EVERY TIME - I heard someone else's pregnancy news, I screamed inside. When I heard someone joke about how easy it was for them to get pregnant, I went home and cried. When I was asked when we'd have our next kid, I searched for the right answer.

Finally, it just became too much. One miscarriage and months of disappointments later, in the late fall of 2011 I threw up my hands. I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't think I could do IVF -- it was expensive, results not guaranteed, and risked multiple births (and I knew myself well enough to know that I would just barely be able to manage twins, and couldn't confront a decision about what to do if I got pregnant with more than twins). I also couldn't put myself, my husband, or our daughter through the ups-and-downs anymore.

I told my husband I wanted to stop. He said fine. We never discussed whether we'd try to add to our family through other means. I think we were both too tired to jump to that conversation yet.

Almost immediately thereafter, we got great news. My husband had landed a job in Maine. We were going to move. I was going to quit my law firm job. And I wasn't going to start looking for a job in Maine until after my sister's wedding in April.

I continued working throughout December, knowing that after the holidays I would give my notice. If I could have skipped through my days, I would have.

We went to Maine for Christmas with my family. We started looking at houses. I didn't do one minute of billable work.

I gave my notice. We put our house in D.C. on the market. We packed up our clothes, and on the second weekend of January, we drove north to Maine.

Chapter closed. Door shut. Firmly.

Two weeks later, I bought another at-home pregnancy test. I was pregnant.

This past Sunday, my son turned one.

Every day - EVERY DAY - I think about how lucky I am to have him; to have both of my children. Even if it is just for a split second of some minute in some day in which he and his sister are driving me nuts, I think that thought. Probably every parent does, and probably every parent's thought is colored by their own unique experience in bringing that baby into the world.

For me, I look at my son and think about how hard I worked - we worked - to bring him into our family. I think about how he came only when I stopped working so hard. And I think about how hard I want to work to be a good mother to him. To pay him back for all the good he has done me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Day in The Life

I may have had to give up on my childhood dreams of becoming a door-banging-downer law enforcement official, but that doesn't mean that I threw away all the tools I amassed as a tweener. Looking back, those days spent perusing counter-intelligence mags and shadowing my small town's elite police force weren't for naught. They've come in mighty handy over the years, either because I needed to handcuff my children to safe toys or because I needed to billy club an especially pesky woodchuck.

Now, my wire-tapping and video-surveillance equipment has proven to be a real asset. As has my friendship with Robert Downy, Jr. Because Monday night, after that great game between Green Bay and the Seahawks that ended with the exact right result, I took the Iron Man capsule to Santa Monica, CA, snuck into the home of replacement referee Lance Easley (a/k/a "Easy There, Easley - That's Not A Touchdown"), and got my constitutional-infringement on.

I booby-trapped that dude's place with all manner of audio and visual capture. I even got a mic and a camera affixed behind the man's ear (to be fair, he'd had an exhausting evening). Why did I do all this?  For YOU.  My readers. So that you can get a peek into the life that is defining yours.

This was Lance's Tuesday, September 25th.

Scene: Lance's bathroom. Lance is sleeping on his toilet, with his stomach hanging into the bowl and his arms and legs draped in a rainbow-like crescent to the floor. He is dressed in a suit and tie. My sources tell me this is how he sleeps every night.

Lance is awoken at 6AM by a fire alarm. My sources tell me that he has rigged his oven so that the crumbs from the previous night's frozen pizza catch fire every morning at this time. Because when someone mentioned an alarm clock to him once, this is what he thought they meant.

Lance startles, runs to his kitchen, and destroys the fire detector above his stove with a fairy wand he stole from his niece. When quiet is restored, Lance looks outside and sees that it is still dark. Frustrated, he growls at the now-shredded fire detector for waking him up when it is still nighttime. He waddles back to his toilet and goes back to sleep.

Two hours later, Lance's tie is so sogging wet from dangling in the toilet bowl that it starts to pull him, from the neck, into the water. This wakes him. He startles, races to the window, notices the daylight, and strips down naked. He puts his tie in a bowl of water to dry and heads to laundry room for his first meal.

Scene: Lance's laundry room. It houses a bike and a large bowl of dog food. My sources tell me he has been eating dog food ever since he told a friend about some hot lady friend who let him brush her hair, and the friend shoulder-shoved him and said "You dawwwwgggggg!"

Lance pounces on the dog food. He's starving.

Now that Lance is fully undressed and fully fed, he is ready to get on with his day. He leaves his house by climbing up the chimney, just like Santa Claus. He shimmies down the rain spout and slips two large Tupperware containers onto his bare feet. He skates to the office, backwards.

Scene: Lance's office. There is a footstool, an abacus, and a Fathead of Barry Manilow. Lance is a banker.

Because Lance insists on working in the buff, he is a solo practitioner. That does not stop him from screaming instructions and demanding that someone make a copy of a document for him using that crayon-shading thing you do with leaves in nursery school.

He spends the day patting himself on the back for inventing mortgage-backed securities and writing "CDOs are good.  CDOs are good.  CDOs are good" on the wall. Not as a form of punishment, but just as an alternative way to express his pride and excitement over doomed investment vehicles.

Around lunchtime, he feels some pangs in his stomach. He assumes he is going into labor. He Tupperware-skates to the hospital.

Scene: the hospital. Lance creates something of a kerfuffle when he demands that the hospital pay HIM at check-in. He creates further disturbances when he insists on wearing the hospital gown as a kerchief. He is promptly escorted to the psych ward.

Lance does an impressive series of back-bends and split-jumps. He believes he is in the "psych ward" because the hospital administration wants to capitalize on his spirit-building techniques. He is thrilled his years in Glee Club are paying off.

The staff allows him one call to a close friend or relative. He is confused when the phone handed to him looks nothing like a can of soup.

Finally, a next of kin is located. His step-cousin begrudgingly retrieves him and drives him home. Lance sits astride the roof of the car and chats with his step-cousin through the open sunroof. His step-cousin spends a lot of the time complaining about Lane Kiffin and USC's disappointing loss to Stanford. Lance has absolutely no idea what his step-cousin is talking about, but takes momentary delight in the fact that "Lane" is just like "Lance" except without the "c."

Scene: Back at Lance's house.

Lance thanks his step-cousin for the ride home and smashes out a window to let himself back inside home-sweet-home. It has been a long day. Lance decides to unwind by practicing mixed martial arts with a Bengal tiger in his bathtub. After a soothing spoonful of chili garlic sauce, he decides to call it a day. He puts his suit and tie back on and looks longingly at his toilet.

Before he can let himself end his day, though, he remembers what Mr. Roger told him he needs to do. He needs to get ready for next weekend. He needs to review the tape. He needs to study the rules book. He needs to practice counting.

So he gathers up all the Scotch tape in his house and unravels it, yard by yard, until he's got a big sticky wade of tape. He eyes it closely. Check.

He thumbs through his well-worn copy of "The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing The Heart of Mr. Right," by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. Check.

He finds a bag of peas, cuts it open, and throws it up in the air. He eyeballs the spilled peas, takes a guess as to how many he sees, and write that number down on a piece of paper. He sticks the paper in a glass jar, to be opened on Easter. If he's within 100 peas of guessing correctly, he will award himself a marshmallow peep. Check.

Good morning!

Clearly, this is a touchdown.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fair's Fair

As reported on Friday, this weekend we went to the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. We went yesterday. A day which deserved a blue ribbon for Most Perfect Fall Day. The sky was a piercing blue, the few clouds were cotton-ball fluffy, the sun was warm, and the breeze was cool. If you weren't actually in Maine yesterday, you wish you were. Trust me.

In fact, yesterday was such an awesome day weather-wise that we probably could have done any variety of activities and it still would have been awesome. Mucking out horse stalls, hunting for skunks, shopping at a mall. The wonders of yesterday were so extreme that they would have negated the horrors of even those horrifying tasks.

Now that I have you sufficiently depressed about where you live/jealous about me living in Maine, let's continue.

Unity, Maine is located just north of Benton and just east of Bangor. You're totally picturing it in your head now, right? If you need some help, I can tell you that Benton is the storage unit capitol of the Northeast. For a town with few residents and mostly trailer-sized homes, it apparently boasts a significant amount of nick-nacks, used mattresses, and/or dead bodies.

Unity takes about 1.5 hours to get to from where we live. Along the way, we saw 1 deer, dozens of cows, large roadkill, and miles of hay bales. We left at 9:30 so my son could take his morning nap in the car. He didn't sleep at all. Unless you count blinking.

The fairgrounds are hard to miss. After miles of nothing, we were greeted by the welcoming sight of Waldo County Sheriffs, standing by their blinking-light patrol cars. I think this was a big day for them. A break from the tedium of busting crystal meth kitchen labs for the excitement of directing traffic.

There were A LOT of people heading to the fair. The parking lots were huge. Just to be sure we're all on the same page here, by parking lot I mean "big grassy expanse cleared of livestock to make room for cars." We remembered where we'd parked by memorizing our car's relationship to the windmill.

We trekked across the parking lot and then walked about half a mile along a path through the woods. The path was dotted with "Did You Know" signs about organic farming -- some interesting facts and figures whose ultimate takeaway was that we're all poisoned and going to die because we didn't buy organic grapes for decades. Now, on to the fair!

After passing by the "gentle foresting" demos and the "composting outhouse," we finally arrived at the fairgrounds. They were gigantic. Stalls for food and stalls for livestock and stalls for crafts and stalls for next-generation iPhones. (Just kidding. There was a big sign at the entrance saying NO CELL PHONE RECEPTION. FIGURE OUT ANOTHER WAY TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR LOVED ONES.)

Here are some other things I found at the fair:

  • Dreadlocks. Everyone had them. Even short-haired dogs.
  • Organic food. Everything was organic. Even the fried dough. I'm for reals.
  • A repurposed school bus functioning as an apartment. The gals who whipped up my tofu scramble wrap live and work out of the bus parked behind their stall. The bus was painted a magical green and called something like the "Sunflower Star Ship." The girl who took my order spoke in nothing but song and the girl who prepared my wrap had a crocheted Bob Marley cap just-barely perched on her dreads. I very much blended in.
  • Sledding. Not snow sledding. Dirt sledding. On recycled cardboard boxes. My daughter loved it.
  • Bob Dylan. Not the real Bob Dylan. The sadly earnest wannabe Bob Dylan playing some one of the poet's scratchy songs under a randomly situated tree near the totem pole stall. With a gal juggling beside him.
  • Chicken coops. Professionally designed and constructed ones. My husband scoffed.
  • Chickens. Of every breed. Felt like home.
  • Llamas. No alpacas (Praise Jesus!). The woman giving the "Llama Tours" explained that alpacas aren't bred to be friendly, so they don't bring them to fairs. Sounds like just the right pet for the Diaz family!
  • Custom-made coffins. I'm for reals here too. The first thing we saw when we left the fairgrounds to head home was a sign for these babies, with some samples standing up along the roadside. It's like window shopping, only from your car and for the afterlife!
  • Free tents. For reals again, people! The second thing we saw was a sign for free tents. The offeror was apparently taken up on his offer, as an entire section of the parking lot was cordoned off for overnight campers sleeping in...yes, tents!
It was quite an adventure and certainly a memorable way to spend my son's first birthday. For his second, we're thinking of recreating Woodstock.

I just hope Pinterest has a good recipe for pot-free pot brownie cakes. I've got a year to find it!

MOFGA hosts the Common Ground Country Fair and seems like quite a respectable outfit.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dear Abby: Friday Favorites?

A lot of blogs share a running theme on Fridays: they troll the web and report back on their favorite finds. So they call the posts Friday Favorites. Because alliteration is fun.

A reader asked me why I don't do Friday Favorites. Kind of funny question, because she asked me to talk about why I don't do Friday Favorites in my Dear Abby column. Which I post on Fridays.  Clearly, this is a woman who can't be pleased: HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO MY DEAR ABBY COLUMN ON FRIDAYS AND DO A FRIDAY FAVORITES ON FRIDAYS? What does she think I am -- some type of writing machine that can churn out TWO blog posts on a single day? Jeez. Creativity doesn't grow on trees, my dear. 

But just this once, I am going to cover both of these bases. I'm going to do it by making today's Dear Abby post one in which I share a few of my favorite things.  See how I did that? I'm mooshing two concepts together in a single post. Someone, give me an honorary MFA! 

Favorite Self-Promoting News.

Everyone get excited. I am going to be writing regularly for HelloGiggles, an online literary anthology for the pop culture ages.  My posts will be up on Saturdays (starting tomorrow!), and I think they'll run every week.  My topic will be Hollywood "news," and it will be presented in the format I first tested with all of you: Now That.... So thank you for being such wonderful guinea pigs, and thank you in advance for reading more Now Thats over at HelloGiggles!

Favorite Business Idea.

Everyone get excited again. Especially the parents of children aged 0-12 who haven't seen a decent movie in 0-12 years. Wouldn't it be awesome if movie theaters had a child-care room? Your kids could play and eat popcorn and watch a movie or something while you spend 90 minutes or so enjoying a movie on the big screen, as Harvey Weinstein and nature intended? Someone with deep pockets and more energy than me, go out and get this done. Gracias.

Favorite Movie I Would See If Only A Local Theater Would Take Care of My Kids.
I couldn't pick one. It'd be like asking one of Jennifer Garner's kids to pick the single candy they'd like to try at Dylan's Candy Bar. If you haven't been allowed to exercise free choice in an area of your life, the sudden introduction of options is overwhelming. I'd want to see The Master because I love cults, I'd want to see  End of Watch because I am a student of drug busts, I'd want to see Sleepwalk with Me because I went to college with that guy, I'd want to see The Perks of Being A Wallflower because I'd like some answers. Or maybe I'd just save it all up for Les Miserables, so that I could throw every element of once-in-a-lifetime-ness at the moment. 
Favorite Book I Haven't Read Yet.
Easy-peesy.  It'd be This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz.  Diaz most recently wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is a book with a long title and an incredible story.  If you haven't read it yet, fix that.  Start reading it immediately. When you're done, tell me how much you loved it. Then join me in a squeal of delight at the thought of reading brand new words from Diaz.
The most disappointing thing to me about Diaz is that he's not an in-law. I'm incredibly frustrated with my husband for not being related to him.

Favorite Country Fair in My Future.

I think I'm throwing too much excitement at you in one post. I'm sorry. If you can handle it, keep reading.

My husband is pleased to announce that THIS WEEKEND, WIFE AND CHILDREN, WE WILL BE TRAIPSING TO UNITY, MAINE TO ATTEND THE COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR! I know that Unity, Maine sounds like the setting of a Stephen King novel, and maybe it is. It is also the upcoming site of a Diaz Family (sadly, no relation to any of the Junot Diaz family branches) Adventure. There will be antiques. There will be livestock. There will be no-sugar, all-organic, locally-sourced food. Best case scenario: we come home with a butter churner. Worst case scenario: we come home with an alpaca.

Favorite Conversation I Keep Overhearing.

If I had a nickel for every time I hear someone say "They say it's going to be a long, snowy winter," I wouldn't have to worry about how we're going to pay for our heating oil. But hey, maybe I'll have an alpaca in the backyard. According to Wikipedia, alpaca fleece is a "lustrous and silky natural fiber," even warmer than sheep's wool.

Does anyone know how to shear an alpaca?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

47 Problems

As so many know by now, a video has been leaked from a fundraiser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The fundraiser took place in May 2012, and featured a Q&A session with the candidate himself. One member of the dining audience asked Mr. Romney how he planned -- in terms of strategy -- to win in November. This was Mr. Romney's answer:

There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government is responsible for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what... These are people who pay no income tax... my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

I see a lot of problems with that answer. How many?

Well, I see 47.

The following list is based on my opinion and on facts I have read or heard.  I've read them in on-line news journals or actual, hold-in-your-hand print.  I've heard them on news broadcasts or on NPR from my car radio.  I am not embedding links to support each fact I recount because it'd just be too annoying to the eye.  If you want to double-check me, a simple Google search of "Mitt Romney 47 percent" will get you there.  The only place I do not recommend going for fact-checking is Fox News.  All I found on that website on this issue was opinion with which I happen to disagree.

  1. Detail. It is true that 47% (or pretty close thereto) of Americans pay no federal income tax. Mr. Romney categorizes all of those people as necessarily being entirely "dependent upon government," insinuating they pay no taxes whatsoever. In fact, most of that same 47% pays a host of other taxes, including federal payroll and excise taxes, as well as state and local taxes, like sales taxes, property taxes, and state income taxes in the states that impose them.
  2. Detail. Some of the 47% who pay no federal income tax are people who are so poor that they don't even meet the minimum threshold for federal taxable income or are otherwise entitled to deductions that erase any federal income tax liability they might otherwise have.
  3. Detail. Some of the 47% who pay no federal income tax are the elderly, whose only income is Social Security (and who rely on Medicare/Medicaid for their health care).
  4. Detail. Some of the 47% who pay no federal income tax are disabled military retirees who are receiving service-connected disability payments.
  5. Detail. The rest of the 47% who pay no federal income tax are millionaires. These millionaires are able to take enough deductions on their tax returns (often from investment losses) that they owe $0 to the federal government in income taxes. In 2011, approximately 7,000 millionaires made up this portion of the 47%.
  6. Message. Mr. Romney concludes that poor people will vote for Obama "no matter what," that they see themselves as "victims," that they take no "personal responsibility" and that they do not "care for their lives."
  7. Ronald Reagan. Former President Reagan championed legislation that ultimately resulted in the "earned income tax" credit. That credit allowed the poor to deduct from their federal income tax returns any income they earned from a job (and not through government programs). The idea was to spur low-to-moderate wage earners to enter the job force and reduce their dependency on the government. The result was that many more lower-income Americans had -- and continue to have -- no federal income tax obligation (but conversely, it is hoped, less dependency on government programs).
  8. Ronald Reagan. In 1987, 62% of Republicans agreed that it was the government's responsibility to help care for those who could not care for themselves.
  9. American Dream. Mr. Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention included the warm-and-fuzzy that America is "about dreams." I could have sworn he spent time telling us all that, just like he picked himself up from his (Hermes) bootstraps, he wants to bring the country "back" to the fundamentals that allow every American to do the same. To take responsibility, to care about their lives, and to leave their children in a better position. Or was I dreaming when he and every other person that took the stage at the RNC talked about how they triumphed over their humble beginnings to emerge victorious and, hurray, not poor?
  10. Message. Mr. Romney concludes that the elderly will vote for Obama "no matter what," that they see themselves as "victims," that they take no "personal responsibility" and that they do not "care for their lives."
  11. Seriously?
  12. Message. Mr. Romney concludes that disabled veterans will vote for Obama "no matter what," that they see themselves as "victims," that they take no "personal responsibility" and that they do not "care for their lives."
  13. Seriously?
  14. Message. Mr. Romney concludes that millionaires with investment losses will vote for Obama "no matter what," that they see themselves as "victims," that they take no "personal responsibility" and that they do not "care for their lives."
  15. HUH?? I thought Mr. Romney loved millionaires. In fact, I thought he wants millionaires to pay less taxes. Or at the very least, certainly not more.
  16. Double standard. Maybe Mr. Romney doesn't include these millionaires in his characterization of the 47% because only poor, old, or disabled people who don't pay taxes are the ones to write off.
  17. Double standard. 20% of Americans earn an average of $13,000 a year. Their effective tax rate (ie. accounting for all the various types of taxes they pay) is 17.4%.
  18. Double standard. Mr. Romney earns several multipliers more than $13,000 a year. For the 2 years he has released his tax returns, Mr. Romney had an effective tax rate of 14-15%.
  19. Double standard. Under VP candidate Paul Ryan's proposed budget, Mr. Romney would have an effective tax rate of less than 1%.
  20. Glass houses. Mr. Romney insinuates that the 47% of Americans who "pay no income tax" are somehow cheating the system.
  21. Glass houses. Mr. Romney has taken a lot of flak for the millions of dollars he has sheltered from American taxes in places like the Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts.
  22. Elections. Mr. Romney writes off 47% of the electorate as necessarily voting for Obama, leaving him to fight to win nearly all of the remaining 53% of voters.
  23. Elections. Plenty of people who pay federal income taxes (ie. the 53%) care about things other than whether they pay federal income taxes. Like health care and civil rights and foreign policy. Mr. Romney is banking on the fact that most of those federal income taxpayers agree with him on most of those issues. (They don't.)
  24. Elections. Worse, in terms of logic, is that Presidents aren't even elected by a popular vote. They're elected by an Electoral College. The President has to "win" a state to grab its electoral votes.
  25. Elections. The states with high numbers of citizens who pay no federal income taxes tend to go to Republicans. States like Texas and Georgia and most of the southern states in between.
  26. Elections. In fact, if history is any guide, Mr. Romney will win 95 electoral votes from the states with the "moochers." President Obama will win all of 5.
  27. Image. Mr. Romney's "47 percent" remarks were made at a fundraiser. The price for admission and dinner was $50,000 a plate.
  28. Image. The fundraiser was hosted at the Boca Raton home of Marc Leder, manager of private equity firm Sun Capital.
  29. Image. Bain Capital, Mr. Romney's old firm, was one of the first investors in Mr. Leder's Sun Capital.
  30. Image. Since 2008, 1 in 5 (for a total of 25) of the companies Sun Capital has acquired have ended up in bankruptcy.
  31. Image. One of those now-bankrupted companies is Friendly's. You know, the ice cream place. A federal agency accuses Mr. Leder and Sun Capital of forcing Friendly's into bankruptcy so as to avoid paying pensions to Friendly's workers.
  32. Image. One of Mr. Romney's most common refrains on the campaign trail is that he wants to cut taxes on the "job creators." That is code for people like Mr. Leder. Huh.
  33. Image. Mr. Leder likes to host parties. A lot. Usually not political fundraisers for guys who don't drink alcohol. Usually, Mr. Leder's parties are all-nighters that include his guests engaging in public sex acts.
  34. Image. Mr. Romney's "47 percent" comment condemns non-taxpaying Americans. His solution for fixing the economy, though, is to cut taxes.
  35. Tone. Obviously, Mr. Romney wasn't thinking of these nuances when he spoke. The tone of his comments indicates an obvious target for his condemnation: poor people.
  36. Tone. Of these poor people, he says it is not his "job" to "worry" about them.
  37. Tone. Three months before the May 2012 fundraiser, he said that he was "not concerned about the very poor" because they have the "safety net" of government entitlement programs.
  38. Tone. Mr. Romney wants to cut or limit government entitlement programs. Is his message, then, to hell with poor people?
  39. Tone. Paul Ryan has tried to clarify that the point Mr. Romney was trying to make with his "47 percent" comment was that too many people are dependent on the government.
  40. Tone. Perhaps -- indeed, probably -- there are too many people dependent (or too dependent) on the government. Fine. Why didn't Mr. Romney just say that? It's not hard to think or say. In fact, great if he had said it! Great if he had given an idea for how that bakes into his idea for (a) taking the White House and, more importantly, (b) improving the country. But he didn't say that. He didn't say any part of that.
  41. Strategy. He didn't say any part of that, in a question about how he thought he could win, at an event six months before the general election.
  42. Strategy. Six months before the general election, the best answer he had to (a) get fundraiser attendees to fork over more cash and, more importantly (b) win the election, was to dump on nearly half of the American populace. The half that, in his mind, is the poor half. Also known, apparently to him, as the wolf-crying victims, the irresponsible, and the careless. Who all the rich people like him and the guests at that expensive dinner have to support. 
  43. Strategy. And yet he cuts at President Obama for his "us versus them" mentality. Indeed, the Romney campaign has referred to President Obama as the "Divider-in-Chief."
  44. Strategy. He cuts at President Obama for not doing enough to create jobs more quickly, and then he derides the low-income earners for not having higher (and therefore, taxable) incomes from all those jobs he's identified as non-existent.
  45. Come On, Man. He writes off the value of millions of Americans, and then he tries to soften his tough exterior by talking about his and Ann's "unconditional love for their children."
  46. Come On, Man. He chides people for not being successful enough to contribute to the tax base, and then he defends his record at Bain by explaining that business requires taking risks, and sometimes those risks aren't successful.
  47. Come On, Man. He outright dismisses those who depend on the government for not doing enough to help themselves, and then he grovels at the feet of wealthy donors to contribute to his campaign.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Signs of The Fall

Brad Pitt stopped by yesterday. He's grown his hair back out, and he was wearing it in a long, low ponytail. He came on horseback and wore a soft leather hat on his head and soft leather boots on his feet. His blue eyes sparkled, his grin slanted out of his mouth, and he spoke with an accent that was hard to place. Some might call it the accent attractive men speak with when they try to assume an "aw-shucks" type of humility. For reference, please see Ryan Gosling, Johnny Depp, and Taye Diggs. 

Anyways. Brad was really taken by the little creek that runs from our backyard to the street. He kept trying to get his horse to splash in it. My daughter thought it was awesome.

She was less enthused when Brad started skinning squirrels and playing World War I in the woods. That got kind of disturbing. My son, however, appreciated the fact that finally someone was crawling in the commando-style he so prefers.

We eventually distracted Brad from "storming Germany" by showing him the in-home beer-making kit I mistakenly got for my kids when I thought it was a large play-dough churner. As he fiddled with the carbonation mechanism, Brad turned chatty. He wanted to learn all about Maine. Do we sleep under bear skins? Do we bury our dead on high mountain passes? Is there anyone here as beautiful as Julia Ormond? Blah blah blah.

These questions were all hard for me to answer. Then he asked me one I could really run with, and the afternoon was saved. Tell me about the fall, he said. Tell me about the signs of the fall.

This is what I told him.

In Maine, we know the fall is coming, not because we are reading a calendar or referring to an almanac. We know the fall is coming because we can see it, we can smell it, we can touch it, we can taste it. The signs of the fall travel in the wind and dance in the light. Kind of like an airplane.  ("An airplane?!?" interrupted Brad.  "Quit the act, Pitt," I retorted. "This role ended for you almost twenty years ago. You've spent the better part of the last two decades on a plane. Now hush up.")

The signs of the fall in Maine are these:

  1. There is a frost in the morning, a warm sun around noon, and a brisk chill by evening. Layering is therefore a must. Many leave the house in a tank-top, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, turtleneck, fleece vest, and windbreaker every morning. They remove one article of clothing every 30 minutes and then, after lunch, put one article of clothing back on every 30 minutes. Fall in Maine is the reason The Gap is still in business.
  2. The ocean takes on the color of a piercing cobalt blue. Fisherman who are bored after a summer of lobstering successfully market "Heart of The Ocean" Tours to unsuspecting tourists. They believe the old lady in Titanic really did drop her necklace in the waters off Portland, and that the water's color is a result of the sun reflecting off that whopper of a necklace. (Canadians will believe anything.)
  3. There are apples in everything: breakfast pastries, jams and jellies, desserts, meats, and beverages both hot and cold. Also bananas. (That last item is for my Canadian readers.)
  4. The best time to do anything at any place in Maine is between 1-4PM on a Sunday. That is because the Patriots are playing then, and everyone is at home watching them. Yesterday, in those three hours alone, I managed to grocery shop, buy all my Christmas presents, get my car detailed, renew my license, and enroll both kids in kindergarten.
  5. Children wear nothing but athletic gear. There is always a game or a practice for football or soccer or field hockey or cross-country. It's just common sense time management to shoo kids out of the house in the morning with their cleats, mouthguards, shoulder pads and/or Garmin watch already in place.
  6. Hands, feet, and noses become perpetually cold. After three months of sufficient temperatures for complete warmth, the body's internal combustion engine is out-of-shape and blood circulation is a real chore. The extremities suffer.
  7. The leaves are changing and falling. Yards are littered with large piles of them and several varieties of rakes. Toddlers often go missing for minutes on end when they stumble into one of the piles and can't figure out how to stumble out.
  8. Churches get busy again. Everyone is suddenly a fervent parishioner. The secret is that they're all just praying for the Red Sox's season to end already. (And for guidance on which leaf pile to look in for Junior.)
  9. Neighbors start to judge one another. Because nothing justifies comments of "Jim and Shirley really are morons, I don't care that they let us park the boat on their lawn" like having Jim and Shirley pelting their lawn with little white ghosts and a Mitt Romney jumping out of a coffin weeks before it is even October.
  10. The air is drumming with a steady hum of "thwack, thwack, thwack" as everyone sturdy enough to wield an axe (ie. everyone) starts felling every item of wood in sight. This is good news for the fireplaces and the log piles spanning two tree trunks, bad news for swing sets and picnic tables. But hey, winter's coming and the cost of heating oil is through the roof. So quit whining about your play fort being in splinters, or figure out how many lemonade stands it takes to buy one month's worth of radiant heat!
Needless to say, Brad loved the list. Also needless to say, he bought a house in Maine last night. Also needless to say, he has no plans on ever being there.

This is me and Brad during our little tete-a-tete. Yes, we have prairie grass in Maine.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dear Abby: Is It Worth It?

Newsweek is asking us all a big question:

Is college a lousy investment?

Which prompted a reader to ask me a big question:

Abby, do you think college is a lousy investment?

This is not a new debate, and lots of experts have already chimed in with their thoughts. Including experts like Paula Abdul. Naturally, I'm intimidated to dip my toe into waters she's already bathed in. But I'll do it. 

My answer? It depends.

What? I'm a lawyer. I went to three years of graduate school to learn that answer.

The debate has been reheated in the microwave of our collective economic angst because of a sad reality: More and more kids are graduating from college with ever-mounting student loan debt, and many of those same kids cannot find a job. College graduates are being welcomed into that real world they were all so excited about when MTV filmed it. Unfortunately, their welcome party is hosted by their parents, takes place in their childhood bedroom, and features activities like Applying at Applebee's and Saving on Rent to Pay Loans.

When I was in college, way back at the turn of the millennium, everyone basked in the relatively safe assumption that we'd be gainfully occupied upon graduation. Maybe it'd be with an entry-level job, but it'd be a job. Maybe we'd go to graduate school, but it'd be to ensure an above-entry-level job after those extra years of schooling. Maybe we'd catapult directly into the banking/finance world, but it'd be to invent value-less commodities and make obscene amounts of money fast so that our grant-writing friends felt even worse about themselves. There was a silver lining to even the worst-of-cases scenarios.

The implicit safety net we all played above allowed us to indulge in the college experience. Sure, most of us went to classes, and sure, some of us joined a club or volunteered every other Wednesday in the Admissions Office. But we could also waste time and explore alternate states of being with the luxury of only worrying about whether our parents or campus police would eventually discover that the "mall" in question wasn't the one where the monuments are, or that "chem-free" was code for "chem-full."

That's not to say that student loan debt was a stranger to the college scene in the days of yore.  Of course it wasn't.  In fact, it was prevalent then as well.  The difference, I think, was that we could (a) find a job to help support ourselves/work down bits and pieces of the debt during college; and (b) rest assured that whatever debt remained after graduation could be chipped away at over time. Because we'd have a job with a paycheck that was big enough for us to live off and to make our monthly interest payments.

The system clearly appears to be broken. As the Newsweek article so exceptionally suggests, the system depends on the consuming public -- ie. parents and their school-age children -- believing in the maxim that everyone needs a college education. Just like we all used to believe that everyone should own a home. Which has worked out just great.

The college-is-a-must mentality has allowed institutions of higher education to take advantage of their captive audience. Add to that the competitiveness of the marketplace, with colleges now looking more like places for spa treatments and parades and less like places for classrooms and office hours. Now add to that the presumptive availability of public and private loans to subsidize these 4-year vacations, and you've got the perfect storm.  Eighteen-year-olds who are dying to enjoy the freedom of paradise, parents who think they're child abusers if they don't allow for the experience, and strangers who are more than happy to foot the bill and then collect on the interest payments for decades thereafter.

All of which allows for schools to continue to raise their tuitions without accounting for the increases to anyone. Tenured professors make hundreds of thousands while grad assistants teach the classes, football teams travel in horse-drawn chariots, and there's Wi-Fi access at the top of the rock-climbing wall in the gym. Come for the on-campus dining, stay for the laundry service, leave for the unemployment lines! Don't say you would trade that lifetime of memories for that lifetime of debt!

The uh-oh moment is upon is. Students (and their parents) can no longer blindly accept the steep and rising costs of higher education, because students (and their parents) can no longer temper their steep and rising panic with visions of employment dancing in our heads. One would hope that would mean the schools would stop blindly letting their costs increase, only to pass the bill along to the student consumer. I am not holding my breath.

Despite the dire and frustrating picture I've sketched, I still think college is an investment that should be made. Recent high school graduates are faring much worse than recent college graduates in today's economy; the unemployment figures for the former are much higher than those for the latter. Blue-collar jobs that don't care whether you've taken the Pain of Plato are harder and harder to come by. Jobs that demand technical acumen or a health-services background are on the rise. And those require schooling beyond the twelfth grade.

To make college a good investment, though, the investors need to be smarter. They need to work harder for their returns. They need to think about what they want those returns to be before they leap in.

By that, I mean that I do not think college can be approached as a vacation where you sometimes pull an all-nighter cramming (knowledge, not alcohol). I think students need to enter college with some idea about what they want to do on the other side. I think they need to take the classes, look for the internships, and participate in the extracurricular activities that will get them there. I think they need to stop playing Madden 13 and they need to step away from Ellen. I think they need to consider options beyond the "traditional" 4-year structure, and honestly evaluate whether they are best suited for a vocational degree or a community college program. I think we all need to agree that higher education is whatever schooling you do after high school, and includes a lot more than Harvard.

More positively, I think students need to appreciate the opportunity that college affords them. I know that I did not do this. I approached college much too casually. It was a mistake, and I regret it.

I would love to be able to have 4 years to do nothing but learn. I would love to write for and read with people smarter than me. I would love to reevaluate who I am, what I want to contribute, and how I might be able to do that in an environment designed to propel me in that direction. I think the college students of today would be so much better served by their college experience if they gave that attitude. . . . well, if they gave it the old college try.

Of course, there is no fail-safe way to ensure employment post-college, and plenty of recent college grads took the approach I encourage, yet find themselves without a job nonetheless. Of course, I'm speaking in broad generalities. Of course, the most my approach promises is that at least your investment will yield tangible returns beyond the Freshman 15.

I maintain, though, that if the investor isn't ready to answer the above questions or face that version of the real world, they shouldn't invest yet. They should get the job at Applebee's now, figure themselves out now, live with mom and dad now. Better to do it now, pre-investment, at 18, than to do it later, post-investment, at 22.

Every investment that is too easy, too good to be true, eventually bites someone in the pocket or the pride. Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Wall Street's sub-prime mortgage game. The Yankees. A real investment -- a reliable investment -- is meant to be made only after careful and informed consideration. An evaluation of the risk and reward, and a refined direction based on that calculus.

So yes, make the investment in higher education. Just do your homework beforehand. And then do your homework.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An App for That

BREAKING NEWS: Today, Apple is "announcing" the iPhone 5 at an event in San Francisco.

Behold the wonder:

This is a picture of the iPhone 5.  Don't stare at it directly.  Your eyes and your heart will start leaking fluids.
Don't ask me how I know this.  Don't ask who my sources are.  Let's just say it's all very dark-night, parking-garage, orange-glow of a single lit cigarette.  Let's also just say I'm a medium with a direct connection to Steve Jobs (God gets a lousy signal).

So it's obviously a really huge day.  So huge that I can't believe it's not a national holiday or something.  Like, why aren't we all at home sitting around a tree decorated with our old iPhones and iPhone accessories, giving thanks for what the iPhone brings to our lives and wearing costumes made entirely of black turtlenecks?

And if it's not a national holiday, on a day like today will Obama and Romney suspend their political campaigns to camp out at the nearest Apple store?  To get their grubby hands on the latest and greatest installment, and to talk about how their forefathers toiled so that one day, their descendants could communicate via sleek portable mini-computer?  Kind of how McCain and Obama suspended their campaigns in '08 when the economy was about to spontaneously combust and Congress had to write trillion-dollar checks over the weekend?  Only with the iPhone 5 release being obviously cooler and more important?

And if it's not a national holiday or a campaign holiday, on a day like today will the echo-chambers between the ears of Hollywood starlets be set to mute?  Because today is the day that technology owns the headlines, and not haircuts or jewelry heists or hasty weddings?

Nay, nay, nay.  (For my German readers: Nein! Nein! Nein!)  We're all at work (or feeling down-in-the-dumps about not having a workplace to be at).  The campaign panders on.  The X Factor premieres tonight.

It's as if no one cares about the iPhone 5.  As if no one has considered what a cultural tectonic shift is brewing.  Our minds are about to be BLOWN and all we're doing is surreptitiously reading blog posts in our cubicles and dreaming up Britney-Demi drinking games in our heads.

I'm excited enough for all of you.  Actually, my emotional meter is clocked somewhere between "psyched" and "stoked."  Because I know Steve Jobs, and I know that he listens to me every night when I dial him up.  So I know that the iPhone 5 is about to be the answer to all my problems and challenges.  I know that soon, the following applications (we call them "apps" in the biz) will be at my fingertips:

  • An app that straightens my hair while I brush my teeth.
  • An app that can reach into the crevices of my daughter's car seat to vacuum up the Starbucks petite vanilla bean scone she forgot about in February and the Pirate's Booty patina that covers that seat like a soft blanket.
  • An app that prepares a child-friendly dinner, a husband-friendly dinner, and a waistline-friendly dinner.  Every night.
  • An app that acts as a scale, and knows how much that scale needs to lie to me every morning, factoring in conditions such as mood, temperature, clean laundry, and potential run-ins later in the day.
  • An app that filters every stupid comment I formulate in my brain and erects a road-block somewhere around the back of my throat to keep that little sucker from escaping out of my mouth.
  • An app that downloads every piece of news information I would like to understand and deposits it in whatever lobe has the available storage space.
  • An app that prints truly exceptional unmarked, non-traceable, counterfeit money.
  • An app that keeps Paris Hilton wherever she has disappeared to.
  • An app that sends birthday cards, thank-you notes, and spreads holiday cheer, with adorable yet casually-posed photos of my smiling children included.
  • An app that makes customer service personnel reliable, airport delays negligible, and traffic jams avoidable.
It's a brave new world, a brand new day, and we're being given one moment in time!  Happy Birth Day, iPhone 5!  We love you, baby!  But I love you the most.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Not So Common

Yesterday at church, the pastor spoke about the need to find common ground. Her anchor was obviously religious, but her message was broader. Drawing from a passage in the Gospel of Mark, she spring-boarded into a reflection on the importance of being able to come to a place - literal or figurative - where we can all share in the basic elements of human society. Trade stories, ideas, goods, etc. She emphasized that a crucial foundation for this sharing was to focus less on what makes us different, on what divides us, and more on the virtues or goals or hopes that we share.

She contrasted that with the no-man's-land of barren terrain and tense relations. Two boundaries, clearly staked out and carefully monitored, but never crossed. The zone each side thinks it is protecting by denying the other side entry and refraining from making any overture itself.

Her timing cannot have been coincidental, coming at the heels of the two parties' political nominating conventions and at the kick-off to the down-and-dirty election season. As I sat there listening to her speak, all I could think of was how perfectly she was encapsulating both the frustrations of the current political climate and the aspirational framework for how that climate could be improved. Also, I was doing a lot of thinking about how I wish her words were mine. She was brilliant.

The politics of today are, to me, some variation of that car-wreck analogy. The politics of today frustrate me to such a degree that I can almost taste it, but I can't look away.  The politics of today are defined by bickering, brinksmanship, and boneheads. The politics of today are ruled by selective amnesia, blatant disregard of facts, and talk. Talk talk talk talk talk. Doing and acting and reacting and, oh, listening to all the talking -- well, those just get in the way.

The Republicans have made it clear that their main goal has been and is to put Obama out of office. The Democrats have made it clear that their main explanation of the past four years is to blame Republicans - both the ones in office now and the Big One who was in the White House before. Everyone spends so much time pointing their finger across that no one has thought to try to point it forward.

I get what it means not to want the other team to advance. I understand that you want your side to win. I can do the math that winning means keeping your opponent from scoring more points than you. I mean, after church got out yesterday, I spent most of my time watching and/or monitoring the scores of football games.

Games.  Football is a game.  A game that ends with a winner and a loser and a final score.  A game measured with stats like total yards, quarterback hits, and fumbles.  A game that, however it ends, has almost no meaningful repercussion on the finances, health, or security of anyone other than the men that were on the field for four quarters.

Politics should not be a game.  But politics is being played like a game.  Don't let the other side advance downfield with a bill or an initiative that could become a political victory.  Hit the guy trying to call the plays until he stops having the energy to go back under center.  Hope for or force some sloppy handiwork and then swarm the cough-up like parasites. Focus on the score that you are inventing. Ignore the repercussions on the finances, health and security of millions and millions of people. The people footing your paycheck.

The only thing these gaming politicians have in common is that they all share some of the blame for failing to find common ground somewhere, on some issue. I could cite example after example, and some day I probably will get to at least some of them. For now, the only necessary metric to reference is that Congress' approval rating has returned to the historically low 10% it hit in February of this year.  Not only do both parties of Congress hate each other, but we all hate them too.

You will not be encouraged to hear that Congress is essentially out of session between now and the elections.  (Those are in November.  It's September.)  They are leaving their summer vacation homes and returning to Washington for a quick little session of doing nothing.  Then they'll spend the rest of the fall fundraising and campaigning and apple picking or something.  Then they'll collect their checks for their $174,000-ish annual salary and sing a song about putting the country back to work.

We have serious problems to confront. The debt ceiling crisis that stalled government last year is rearing its head again, and all those compromises that staved off disaster then are already being back-tracked on now. The jobs recovery is slower than predicted, much less hoped. We're still technically at war. Some guys would like to return us to the good old days of barefoot-and-pregnant-and-quiet.

I know that as long as there is a two-party system, there will always being dividing mindsets on economic policy, social mores, and our country's role in the world.  But I have to believe that no one, not even the guys and gals who are so consumed with their little game, are satisfied with where this country stands. We all, they all, want it to be better. We all, they all, see room for improvement.

So there. There! We, they, at least have that basic thing in common. Let's run with it. Let's get out some paper, write down some things we'd like to see happen, and let's see if we can't figure out a couple ideas for getting that done. I'll help get thing started. Folks on Capitol Hill? Why don't you all - Michelle and Harry and John and Nancy and Scott and everyone else - why don't you all agree to check your political ambitions at the door. Agree to stop being guided by those ambitions and those ambitions alone. Agree to start actually serving the people you were elected to serve. It's like customer service. Only more important.

And you know what, politicians? Even if you can't comb the depths of your strangled souls to add to that To-Do List in The Sky, remember that basic thing. That the guy you back-room brainstorm to publicly humiliate and professionally annihilate, he started off his life as a politician because he thought he had an idea or two for how to make his town or district or state or country better. Just like you. He might have gotten distracted along the way. Just like you. He might still have a good idea or a fair point left in him. Just like you. Find his. Share yours. Repeat.

We see nothing like this, though.  Instead, we hear nothing but lofty proclamations about how much each side loves its country and the mothers that raised it. We hear nothing but pretty speeches about how we're all the sons and daughters of immigrants whose shoulders we stand on as we gaze at our house and our children and our 401(k). We hear nothing but puffery. It's like a used car salesman's pitch. Only more empty.

Enough already. Just shut up. You all should go. Call the game. Everyone lost. Especially the people who weren't playing.

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. But what will happen is an election.  A Presidential one, yes, but also a Congressional one. And I say that, regardless of which party you think you are, regardless of how much you love or hate taxes or Medicare or abortions, you think about who you are voting for. Think about whether they're defined by intransigence or thoughtfulness. Think about whether you've ever heard them have a moment of honesty. Think about whether they have ever said something concrete. Think about whether they have ever espoused the virtue of finding the common ground and actually seemed to have meant it. Think about whether they appear to think.

Because if we keep going on the divided track we've been on, I don't care who is in office. They will be President of No Man's Land. The No Man's Land of The Factions And The Home of The Broken. And that is no place I want to live.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Abby: What About You?

Last week, I riffed on a popular column from US Weekly when I described the contents of my bag.  It was a thrilling, edge-of-your seat type of literary experience.

So thrilling, in fact, that readers are clamoring for more.

Sticking with the US Weekly rip-offs, they want me to share 25 Things You Don't Know About Me.

Get out your calculators.  25.  Here we go.

  1. My favorite city in the world is Paris.  I think it's because I feel so at home amongst skinny, chic, chain-smoking women.
  2. My mother did not allow me to wear jeans to school until late middle school/early high school.  She thought they looked too "dirty."  As a result, I was deemed too "losery."  Thanks, mom.
  3. I have probably drank a total of 10 sips of beer in my entire life.
  4. I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter when my husband and I were staying in an alarmingly sketchy hotel in Madrid.  After we celebrated with a high five, we pushed the dresser against the door and listened to one woman's very long, very loud story as she talked in the bar downstairs, all night long.  Ahhh....memories.
  5. One time at church, I left to use the bathroom.  I came back and my skirt was tucked into the back of my tights.  Which goes to show that God's sense of humor is only so-so.
  6. I worked as a law clerk for a judge who happens to be Donald Trump's older sister.  She looks just like him.  Except with a bun.
  7. At one point in my life, I thought I wanted to be a DEA agent.  After some unsuccessful attempts at kicking in doors, I realized that I was better suited for a desk job.
  8. I have three younger sisters.  We assigned maid-of-honor responsibilities over dinner one night.  When the youngest sister was 6 years old.
  9. The boys I had crushes on usually had crushes on one of my younger sisters.  I married the first guy who bucked that trend.
  10. My husband was my first boyfriend.  (Please refer to numbers 2, 3, 5 and 9, above.)
  11. I was not allowed to take any time off from work for my wedding.  (Please refer to number 6, above.)
  12. I transferred colleges after my freshman year.  Because I was a complete and utter disaster during my freshman year.
  13. The girl who was randomly assigned as my roommate during my sophomore year at my new school was a big Winnie the Pooh fan at the time.  She became my best friend anyway.
  14. In law school, I cross-examined a witness in my Trial Advocacy class with Janet Reno, former Attorney General of the United States, sitting in as the "judge."  She is a very cool lady and it was a very cool experience.
  15. The only item on my bucket list is to run a marathon.
  16. Talent makes me cry.  I cried watching my sister play basketball, I cry whenever someone sings something beautifully, I've cried watching theater even though nothing sad was happening, and I've cried watching a touchdown pass being thrown.  People amaze me.
  17. Frustration makes me cry.  I've cried when I couldn't figure out how to solve a problem, I've cried when someone I'm talking to is being completely obstinate, and I've cried at the thought of someone continuing to make the same mistakes.  Intransigence confounds me.
  18. The first movie I cried at was E.T.  Sobbed.
  19. I am highly superstitious.  I knock on wood, have lucky clothes and jewelry, and make a wish at 11:11, 1:11, 2:22, etc.
  20. My wallet was stolen at Barnes & Noble and my luggage (for a trip later that afternoon) was stolen out of my car one morning at Home Depot.  Inside the luggage was a lucky watch from my grandmother.  Those were unlucky days.
  21. The most memorable/life-changing books I have read were from my adolescence: Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, and Gone with The Wind.
  22. During a canoe trip I took during summer camp, I became mortal enemies with a goose that crossed our path.  My friend who was in the boat with me still likes to talk about it.  I don't.
  23. After my husband and I picked our son's name, we realized it was the Spanish version of my sister's husband's name.  We apologized.
  24. The only thing I've ever won was bingo.  $20.
  25. I am the inspiration for the Most Interesting Man in The World commercials by Dos Equis.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Off Target

We need to talk, Target.  Pull up a red plastic chair.

I've loved you for a long time.  That says a lot, coming from me.  I mean, you're a store.  I usually hate stores.  They broke my heart so many times, all the stores before you.  They flirted with my sense of fashion, toyed with my materialistic ego, whispered that I could get away with the chunky heels and the short skirt.  Them and their army of nitwitted sales cheerleaders, they made me believe the lies.  What's worse, they took my money in the process.  I swore I would never go to one again.

But then you came along, with your wide aisles and your stocked shelves and all your promises.  You told me I could buy toothpaste and pants and a desk light in a delight of one-stop shopping.  You told me I could outfit myself and my entire house using the same amount of cash it would take to buy a single designer tank top.  You told me whatever the season, whatever the birthday party theme, whatever the weight gain, I could find the solution in the gentle light of your halogen bulbs.

And books.  You even gave me books.

I told myself to proceed with caution.  I'd gone down this road before, and I knew I couldn't let myself get carried away.  I mean, look what The Gap did to me with those cargo pants.  Borders in bankruptcy.  JCrew and all that neon. 

All those times before, I let myself think that this time, it would be different.  This time, I have found the store that can be with me for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in pregnancy and in half-marathon training.  It never was different, though, and every other store ended up ill-equipped for a lifetime commitment to or from me.

With you, Target, I thought I was ready to trust again.  That maybe with you, lightning had struck.  You made a convincing case.  Home after home, trend after trend, kid after kid, you were always there for me.  It was as if you knew what I needed before I even knew it existed.  As if you knew that on some rainy days with a toddler, you just need a place where it's okay to let your kid out to run.  As if you knew that sometimes, a gal needs retail therapy, but she need it on the cheap.  As if you knew that sometimes, love means having to say "Isaac Mizrahi for Target."

You knew me, Target.  You did.  And so I let go.  I gave up, and I gave in.  Pretended it was cute when you let people call you Tarjay.  Overlooked the nuclear tinge to the popcorn you popped up front by the registers.  Let you sweep me off my feet into the comfortable love seat on the floor display in the home goods section.  Right where you knew I needed it to be.

Joke's on me, huh?

Because like all those times before, the veil has been lifted.  I see the real you now.  The one you hoped I would ignore or just wouldn't notice, what with you wedging it between the distracting purse displays and the engrossing crafts section.

Well, guess what?  I found you out.  And you can stop with all the stumbling excuses and petty accusations.  I didn't check your register receipts, didn't hack into your mass email engine, didn't scan your draft tweets.  You left it out in the open, plain as day. 

You think I'm raising a hussy for a daughter and an idiot for a son.

Imagine my dismay when I visited you over the weekend for some back-to-school shopping.  Just like YOU told me to, Target, I went to the girl's section.  Guess how I felt, Target, when I got there only to discover that everything -- e-ve-ry-thing -- you were offering me there consisted of some sort of glitzy razzle-dazzle sequin see-through low-cut navel-grazing abomination.  My daughter is four, Target - FOUR.  She is not ready to go out into the world looking like the biggest worry on her mind is whether she should get a Shellac manicure or stick with the acrylics.  I am trying to dress her for preschool, not Ladies Night down at the pier.  God.  You're disgusting.

To make matters worse, everything you threw at me for my son was plain moronic.  You see that he is not yet even walking, yes?  And that the sounds that come out of his mouth are usually gargled through a thick film of teething drool?  So why, then, does every article of "clothing" require at least one football and some stupid slogan like "Mom's #1 Draft Pick."  Do you think I would enjoy mocking my son by presenting him to onlookers with a bold-faced lie written across his chest?  He is not a Rock Star or a Guitar Hero or a Slugger or a Fantasy League Sleeper Pick.  He is an almost-toddler who just wants a shirt in one of the primary colors to spill his pureed food on.

If this is how you think of my children, then I have to reconsider everything I ever believed regarding how you think about me.  Do you think I am a bookworm who always wanted to be a hussy, such that I am forcing that lifestyle onto my daughter?  I mean, do I look like Dance Moms material to you?  Do you think I like making fun of my children?  Well of course I do, but not in public.

Shame on you, Target.  And shame on me for letting my heart get the better of my head.

So look, let's just make this fast and easy.  Like taking off a bandaid.  We're done.  You go your way, I'll go mine.  To quote my hero Taylor Swift, "we are never ever getting back together.  WeEEEEeeee are never ever getting back together."

It's not me.  It's you.  Definitely you.