Friday, July 22, 2005

books & covers

Last year I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Linda Richman. If you don't know her by name, you might recognize her caricature. She's Mike Myers' mother-in-law, the inspiration behind Coffee Talk. She's also a grief counselor -- she runs workshops at Canyon Ranch in Arizona and The Berkshires -- and a bestselling author. If you've never read her book I highly, highly recommend it. Better yet, listen to her read it in the audio version. You'll laugh, you'll cry, it's better than "Cats."

Linda gave me enough pearls of wisdom to string a necklace, but the one that really stuck with me was this: "Don't be too hard on people, you never know what's going on with them."

I know it's kind of obvious advice, not exactly hard to remember...and yet so easy to forget. I struggle with judgment all the time: The other day my brother and I were comparing notes on our shared tendency to assume the worst of people, to always make a snide remark or think an unkind thought. Even -- especially -- about people we don't know. We're not mean people. We're loyal friends and thoughtful neighbors; we give food to the homeless and help old ladies cross the street. Yet our first instinct is to size up someone new. Why, we wondered, do we notice a person's out-of-style shoes before we see his warm smile? It's not like looks mean more to us than kindness. Quite the opposite.

After talking it over we decided it's a family trait, easily traced back to Mom. My brother and I learned by example and now it's up to us to break this nasty habit. I guess when my mother assumed she made an ass out of us all.

Case in point: A few months ago I received an e-mail through an Internet dating site. The guy's profile said he was an avid runner and showed a picture of a lean, athletic 30-year-old in serious workout gear. "I have just finished running across the United States," he wrote. "I am passionate about running and it would be great if I could find a running partner."

Red flag. "This boy wants a skinny woman," I thought. I was having a hard time losing the 20 pounds I'd gained and was feeling more like fuzzy slippers than running shoes. My worst fear was to be one of those girls -- the ones who post pictures of themselves from five years and as many dress sizes ago. So I ignored his e-mail. Then he sent me another one. "Just give me a chance," he wrote. "It's only one cup of coffee. I promise we'll have fun."

After a few e-mails he tried to pin me down for a date. The guy was nice, no doubt about it. But I wasn't having it; Truth be told, I was a little put off by his boyish enthusiam, which bordered on immaturity, and the fact that professionally he seemed a bit unfocused. (He listed his occupation as "rock star.") But the thing that really held me back was my insecurity, reflected in what I thought he wanted me to be. We never met.

Yesterday my best friend at work Rosie arrived in a fetching new sundress and heels. "I have my blind date tonight!" she said with an excited little bounce. Rosie broke up with her boyfriend about a month ago. It was rough on her, she really thought he was the one, but he wasn't giving her what she needed so she did what she had to do. Last week a friend offered to fix her up with someone new. Rosie thought it over and decided she was ready to get back on the horse.

"He sounded really nice on the phone," she said. "His name is Jeff and he's a runner. That's about all I know."

Something clicked, I'm not sure why. "Wait, is he on Match.com?"

I logged on and pulled up his profile. Rosie confirmed he was the guy and asked why I didn't go out with him. I told her pretty much what I said above; He was sweet, really sweet, but his athleticism intimidated me.

"Yeah, seems like he does love to run," Rosie said, "but did you check out his website?"

Huh. I didn't know he had one.

Turns out this guy lost a couple relatives to diabetes, so he gathered some corporate sponsorships and ran 3,150 miles across the U.S. to raise money for diabetes research. Oh -- and he lost 100 pounds in the process. I was stunned.

I can understand why one might not mention the weight-loss part of his fitness obsession on a dating site. Not that it's anything to be ashamed of -- on the contrary, in fact -- but it's a little bit "Hi, I'm Jared from Subway." And ladies, I think we can agree that while Jared is an inspiration to us all, none of us has ever fantastized about tearing off his pleated khakis and polo shirt.

But in my case, it might have made a difference. I looked at this skinny guy who talked about running, running and more running, and I assumed he was anti-fat and possibly anti-curvy too. I judged him to be shallow and unambitious based on a photo, a hobby and a flippant job description. And I was completely wrong.

Post-mortem on the date revealed that Jeff was as kind and funny as Rosie and I both thought, but indeed a man of leisure and thus not a good match for either of us. I mean, everyone's entitled to his downtime, but once you hit 30 it's time to start looking for a job.

There I go, judging again. Maybe Jeff's corporate sponsors were good to him and he earned all the money he needs pounding 3,000-plus miles of pavement. It may not be traditional, but I can't say it isn't hard work.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

my daughter the... what is it you do again?

At work this morning we held a financial literacy seminar for a group of mostly Jewish, mostly female young professionals. (I work for an organization focused on domestic abuse and economic security for women.) It was a wonderful program with a ton of practical information. Anyone who'd like a copy of the materials, e-mail me and I'll gladly send it your way.

During the seminar we started a conversation about the mixed financial and professional messages brothers and sisters can glean from their parents. While most boys and girls are encouraged equally to study hard and find good jobs, Jewish American culture still places a subtle pressure on men to pursue the most lucrative careers -- medicine, law, corporate leadership -- and on women to pursue the most lucrative marriages. Compounding the problem is that parents -- again, often the affluent ones -- never talk to their kids about money. Let's face it: As long as there's enough cash to go around, finances are not a top-of-mind issue. You can see how a child could grow up and enter the working world with no clue how to manage the money she earns. And that's dangerous: A woman without finances of her own is at a much higher risk for domestic abuse... But I'm not here to stand on my soapbox; That's what I do from 9 to 5.

This all got me thinking about my own family. My father only talked about money in the context of sensible spending. He did his best to instill in us an understanding of quality and value, but he seldom mentioned what he had socked away or how it was managed. We only needed to know that there was enough money for all of us and he had it under control. As for my professional choices, the only noise Dad ever made was one tiny whimper of disappointment when I told him once and for all I would NOT be following in his legal footsteps. Once that was over he supported the path I chose with no more or less enthusiasm than he gave my brother. At the end of the day it had nothing to do with boys or girls or how much or what people thought; He just wanted us to be happy and pay our bills on time.

My mother, though she also wants only the best for us, has a secondary agenda: To win. You know, the game. The game of "my-kids-are-better-than-your-kids." In her mind and among her friends there is a fierce competition built upon a hierarchy of professional achievement: Bestselling novelists and movie stars on top; doctors, lawyers, CEOs a close second; engineers and science types another rung down; and then everyone else. Occasionally someone from the mixed bag category surprises everyone by rising to fame or fortune in a miscellaneous field, but mostly they're considered bargain bin kids. As spouses they are a "suitable choice" but not a "match made in heaven." It's not that their parents aren't proud...just that they could be so much prouder.

So where do we fit in? Well, my brother is a hard worker and deserves every bit of respect my mother has heaped upon him the last eight years. From the moment he entered college as a physical therapy major she's treated him like a professional. The word "intern" was usually glossed over in favor of more flattering descriptions like, "He works in physical therapy at that big hospital in Boston." Now that he's started medical school, my mother is living four years in the future with "my son the surgeon." At this point he's doctor enough for her; the medical degree is just a formality.

And then there's me. Not counting internships at a travel magazine and a non-profit arts organization, I've been tromping down my own career path for eight years now. I'm almost 30 years old, a homeowner and a professional with business cards to prove it...and still my mother has no idea what I do from day to day. Don't get me wrong -- she's plenty proud. Whenever I publish a piece she distributes it with astonishing speed and efficiency. Once she covered a 10-mile radius in four hours with only a Xerox machine and her own two feet. (Kidding. Sort of.)

I appreciate the praise, but it sort of feels like she's hanging my finger paintings on the fridge. Maybe it's the nature of my work: I get paid to be creative so she assumes I'm holding court over Romper Room all day. Or maybe she still holds out hope that I'm biding my time until Richie Rich rescues me from the daily grind. She doesn't want to think that I might not get married; perhaps she's afraid that if I'm too satisfied with my career I'll never feel the need, and so she tells herself it isn't real. I just want my mother to understand that I am as much a professional as my father at his law firm or my brother at the hospital, and that is why I cannot take her calls three times a day to talk about what's on sale at Loehmann's.

Every week I work hard so the nice payroll lady will continue to give me money for bills, mortgage, food and 401K. Some day, if I keep it up, I might retire and enjoy a life of tennis and shopping. Then, Mom, you can call me whenever you want. We'll have lots to talk about.
Last night as I was leaving my brother's farewell barbeque, my mother opened her mouth (as she does every 2.3 seconds or so) and then, in a rare moment of self-censorship, closed it again.

Two-point-three seconds later she said, "You know, I'm afraid to say anything to you now for fear you'll put it on your blog."




Exactly, Mom. Exactly.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Last night after dinner my family lit yahrtzeit candles in memory of my departed grandparents, all three of whom died in the month of June over the past 10 years. Each of us said a few words, replayed a warm and fuzzy memory or two; As usual my mother did most of the talking.

"Your Grampa was always kind," she said. "You wouldn't think so, grumpy as he was in his old age. But when I was little and I had a bad dream, I always went to his side of the bed. Grandma could be vicious if I woke her up in the middle of the night, but Grampa always made room for me, and let me stay with him until I fell asleep."

I love hearing a story like that about someone I thought I knew. It's like discovering a long-lost relative. How easy it is to pretend my grandparents were always shrunken alter kakhers who collected playing cards and smelled like pickled herring. How easy it is to forget they were young once; unique and full of life.

My grandfather was in the schmatte business; he sorted used clothing collected by Goodwill before it was sent to musty thrift shops or wherever old trenchcoats go to die. My mother told us his "office" was a cavernous warehouse piled high with coats, dresses, slacks, shoes, purses, scarves, sweaters... Sometimes Grampa would find something special -- a nice leather jacket, a button-down shirt ("a hundred percent cotton!" he'd proclaim as if it was spun from gold) -- and set it aside for one of us.

As my mother reminisced I tried to picture my grandfather appraising wool and cotton between his fingers while he picked through mountains of fabric and shoes... But all I could see was the irony of his life's work: Here was a man who was torn from his family, stripped and shaved and starved like an animal, his personal effects sorted and heaped to the ceiling in a Nazi warehouse. I just find it so funny, in the most unfunny way, that a man who survived Auschwitz built a proud new life on piles of schmattes -- daily reminders of a scene he'd have given anything to forget.

Used clothing never made my grandfather rich, but he scrimped, saved and bargained. Found pennies, airplane liquor bottles, fast food napkins... nothing went to waste. His resourcefulness put food on the table and braces on his children's teeth. Even if he had to work half the week in Connecticut away from his family, even if he had to leave every day before dawn, nothing could come between him and his American Dream.

When his old Buick died 18 years ago we took Grampa to see a new Accord at the Honda dealer in Queens, then a Camry at the Toyota lot next door. "Meh," he waved the salespeople away. Nothing doing. The man wanted a Chrysler and he would not be swayed.

"What are you thinking?" we cried. "Why a Chrysler? Chryslers are crap! Buy a Japanese car, they're the best!" My Grampa puffed up his pigeon chest, planted his fist on the nearest desk and declared with tears in his eyes, "America has been good to me, so I want an American car!" It was one of the few times I'd heard him speak a full sentence in English; certainly the first time I'd seen him passionate about something besides smoked fish. Then he turned to the Chrysler salesman and commanded, "Now give me good deal. I pay cash."

You know what? Nearly two decades later that car still works. I like to think Grampa's kept it running these last few years -- way past its expiration date, against all mechanical and technological odds, and in spite of an accident or two. Call it coincidence or sound engineering, but I see it this way: You can douse a dozen engine fires a dozen different ways, but you cannot extinguish the spirit of a survivor.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

psycho

Check out Alan Deutschman's cover story in this month's issue of Fast Company: "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" And if you have another moment, peruse the gallery of Bosses from Hell. My favorite is Henry Clay Frick: "On July 6, 1892, Frick's private militia of 300 Pinkertons fired on a crowd of striking steelworkers and their families. Then he had them evicted from company-owned houses, blacklisted, and tried for murder."

A few years ago I worked for a caustic nutjob at an ad agency in downtown D.C. Let's call him BB. He loathed shyness and told me in my first salary review, "People here don't like you because you don't talk enough." It wasn't true; Once I stopped weeping my colleagues cleaned me up and took me out to lunch, sweetly pointing out that BB never heard me speak because he was always screaming at someone. Also he was deaf in one ear.

He once commissioned me to write an article for a leading trade publication, then published it under his own name. The next spring he fired me and two of my colleagues. Those colleagues' wives, coincidentally, had both given birth two weeks earlier. While I searched for another job interviewers at other ad agencies would look at my resume and gasp, "You spent two years at that firm? I never met a writer who lasted more than six months there!" Maybe BB had liked me more than he let on; maybe I was just a glutton for punishment; either way I was glad to be gone from that awful place.

My new office is around the corner from the old one and occasionally I run into BB at my favorite lunch spot. It's all I can do to keep from spitting on his sushi and punching him right in his recessed chin.

But I digress.

Deutschman says that one's relative level and/or type of sociopathy is what determines his path. But what if it's a simple matter of means and opportunity? A psycho with access to money and education learns early on to indulge his greed by using people, and he becomes a business success. A psycho raised in poverty might learn by example that violence and theft are the way to go, and he becomes a killer. Not that it matters: At the end of the day both will ruin some lives and probably wind up in prison.

For what it's worth, someone has developed a diagnostic tool -- a sort of litmus test for evil that will help prospective employers weed out soulless opportunists and either show them the door or give them a corner office with a view, depending on the position to be filled. Fools. Don't they know those suits eat their own kind? Give me a low-paying bleeding-heart non-profit job anyday. I love my boss and I go to sleep with a clean professional conscience every night. That's not to say we don't have psychos here; it's just a kinder, gentler brand of crazy.

Chicken Capital USA

Maybe I'm only noticing this because I'm fighting my own weight-loss battle now: I just watched an enormous woman load eight pieces of fried chicken into a paper box, waddle over to a table and chow down.

I'm sorry. This is so insensitive. I don't usually point out the fatness of others, not just because it's mean but also out of some karmic fear that for every snide remark God, or the chubby angels in charge of these things, will visit another pound upon mine ample ass.

But I have to rant. This chicken lady, she was hauling a trailer and it was slowing her down. Worse yet she was wearing scrubs, which means that even if she isn't a doctor she works in the medical field. Even the Hamburgler would have to be living under a rock in another galaxy not to have heard by now that obesity kills. I know the chicken tastes good. I'm no angel, I love brownies and I struggle with my weight. But I refuse to believe that woman loves her chicken wings more than she loves herself.

I guess the wakeup call comes to different people at different times: Like in the closet when your fat pants won't close (that was my moment)... when the doctor tells you you've got warning signs for diabetes (that did it for my best friend)... when you haven't left the house for three years... You can only push your body so far. Once you get to the morgue, there's no more waking up.

My grandfather, while not a "fat man," tended toward roundness. Even after three bypass surgeries we sometimes had to wrestle the poundcake out of his doughy hand. In the end it worked out for the best: His heart killed him before his prostate cancer had a chance.

I'm not sure what my point is. Maybe just to reiterate my long-held belief that denial is the most powerful force in the universe.

In conclusion: Eat your vegetables, people. They could save your life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

you look like a monkey, and you smell like one too

Baby Brother, I can't believe it's been 18 years since you burst forth and changed our family dynamic forever. Once our parents were outnumbered, we had the run of the house. We couldn't have broken their spirits without you.

I thought 12 was too old to become a big sister again. As soon as Mom announced she was pregnant I heard a new phrase being murmured, then spoken, then gleefully shouted among her friends: "Built-In Babysitter!" they cried, and patted me on the back in that way that says, "good luck...sucker."

"Shit," I thought, "this is the end." I wasn't a very popular kid in junior high; if I wasn't around after school to pretend I liked cigarettes and the urchins who smoked them, I might fade into the social scenery and never be noticed again.

But then you were born and 7th grade politics ceased to matter. There was no one else I'd rather be with, after school or any time. You were my responsibility, my protege, my little bundle of joy. Nobody loved you more than I did.

I was the one who scolded the moyel at your bris for putting on your diaper wrong. I cheered your first steps while Mom was on the phone upstairs. Together we played fireman, hunted tadpoles and watched Sesame Street when I came home from school. Almost every night I rocked you to sleep singing showtunes. Eventually you learned to ask for your favorites; "Sing Les Miz" was one the first phrases you spoke. (No, that doesn't make you gay.) And when you really started talking -- you were no older than two -- I taught you filthy Andrew Dice Clay nursery rhymes that you loved to parrot back at dinnertime. You didn't know what they meant, only that repeating them made our parents shake their fingers at Matthew and me. Even then you were a ham -- a tiny, wicked, brilliant ham.

And such a looker! People would stop our mother in the grocery store to marvel at your cornsilk hair, enormous blue eyes and button nose. "No way this child could be Jewish," friends would say. "Yeah," Mom replied for the umpteenth time, "we've started to call him Sven."

I loved the time in Kindergarten carpool when Mrs. Rubin asked if you'd like some music for the ride and you requested Dvorak. We may not have been too disciplined, but nobody could say we weren't cultured.

Okay, okay, I'll stop now. Just know that I've always liked you best. I know it's not right, but it's true. Don't tell Matt or Stephie.

Happy birthday, Baby Brother. You know how much I love you: Up to the sky.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Shabbat Shalom, New York

While God and Borough Park enjoyed a day of rest, D and I hit the gym early Saturday morning. And by "hit the gym" I mean he woke me up at 8:30, tossed my running shoes at me and dragged me out the door by my pigtails chanting, "You'll thank me for this later."

After brunch the rest of the day was a lot of wandering, shopping and drinking of overpriced beverages... By 2:00 we marveled at the chasm between our spendings and what we had to show for them. I suggested we write a book: "101 Ways to Waste 10 Bucks in New York City." We were really psyched about the idea and even started jotting down ideas, but we got sidetracked by a street vendor selling Chinese finger puzzles and that was the end of that.

One hundred-some-odd dollars and a few hours later, we landed in Times Square just in time for Rain, a Cirque Eloize production playing at the theater where D works. His boss handed him the tickets and whispered something in his ear; He nodded and gestured me over while she scurried away.

I held out my hands. "Ready?"

"Hold on," he said, the usual goofiness gone from his face. "I just have to tell you that we have two responsibilities here tonight. The first is to be good audience members and enjoy the show."

"Duh. Can we sit down? We're going to miss the curtain."

"And the second," he was almost scolding me, "is not to speak to, or speak about, the person sitting in front of us."

"Ummm...okay..." I said. "I don't usually talk to strangers anyway. Especially in a dark room."

"Look," he was really intense now, as if we were about to transport a live kidney or a vial of smallpox. "I'm about to give you biggest celebrity sighting of your life. But you can't get all excited. Okay? Okay?"

"Okay!"

"Nicole Kidman will be sitting in front of you."

Surprisingly this did not faze me. "So what?" I said. "I wouldn't talk to her, in the theater or anywhere."

D relaxed a bit. "Well I was a little worried, since you practically chased Naomi Foster out of Crate & Barrel this morning."

"It was Naomi Watts, you idiot, and I was just trying to see if we were wearing the same skirt."

It's not like I've never met a celebrity. In fact, it's part of my job: I interview at least one famous woman for each issue of my magazine. Movie stars are just regular people with high-profile, high-pressure jobs. I don't stare or point or try to make friends with them... I just peek. Discreetly. And write about it later.

Ms. Kidman was ushered in at the last moment and floated into the seat directly in front of me. A few country bumpkins in the front row craned their necks to see her and didn't look away until the theater went dark. I was embarrassed for them, but Nicole didn't seem to notice. When she disappeared at intermission D shot down my suggestion that we invite her to join us for a burger. It's not that I wanted to meet her, she just looked like she could use a hearty meal. That's when we had another book idea -- a children's book for celebrity offspring titled "Why Doesn't Mommy Eat?" (Or in the case of the Cruise-Kidman children, "Why Does Daddy Yell at Matt Lauer?")

The show (which has unfortunately closed now but really you shouldn't miss it if it plays near you) was like Cirque du Soleil without the pretense, body paint and cast of thousands. It was simple, intimate and gorgeous, ending in a joyful sort of Slip-n-Slide situation, like children playing in the rain. I was so engrossed I totally forgot about the movie star sitting in front of me -- except when her hairdo was blocking my view. Tall people should really be made to sit in the back.

Nothing too exciting happened after that. I picked up my bags and moved to my uncle's place uptown, so I could spend some time with him and D could leave for his family reunion early the next morning. After brunch with friends on Sunday I took the train home, glad to have seen a few loved ones and just as happy to leave New York behind. I'll save the rest of my thoughts on that subject for another post and just say that I must be growing up, because the allure of New York life is gone. This is my home; I heart DC.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Friday in New York

My mother only called three times before I left the house; twice by phone to remind me to pack my cellphone charger and visit the Jewish Museum in the city, and once by telepathy to make sure I peed before I got on the bus.

By then I was running late, so I flagged down a cab and some guy appeared out of nowhere, asked me where I was headed and hopped in next to me. He looked youngish and businesslike in a corporate drone/casual Friday sort of way. Three times in the five-minute ride he asked if I was headed downtown: I don’t know if he was drunk or forgetful, or not paying attention because he was nervous about something... Maybe he was on his way to a job interview. Or maybe he was carrying an 8-ball of cocaine. You never know with people.

Most of the bus ride was uneventful. For a while I was sort of hypnotized by the man in front of me, whose head was so pale and bald and perfect it looked like a fuzzy ostrich egg bobbing up and down over the top of his seat. I must have been really bored.

Then about an hour outside New York I started chatting with this darling boy across the aisle. An editor at a well-known high-brow left-wing magazine, he was the quiet cerebral type that both inspires and intimidates the hell out of me. I asked if he’d read anything good lately. (That's my old standby question when I want to look smart, like wearing black on a fat day.) For a while I nodded knowingly, but then I slipped up and snickered when he mentioned Alistair Cooke. He asked what was so funny and I looked away, muttering that he’d reminded me of something from my childhood. And just when I thought I'd spend the rest of the ride in shameful silence, he said, “Oh – you mean Alistair Cookie from Sesame Street!” and I felt much, much better. See? Even Mensans were children once.

But in the end, my insecurity got the better of me: I prattled on incessantly while the boy's expression fell from “hello, new friend!” to “my, you’re a talkative little monkey” to “oh my God, I’ve accidentally boarded the bus to hell and this woman was sent to make sure I never return.” If you’re reading this, dude, I’m sorry. Sometimes my mouth is like a runaway train. I hope you had fun at MOMA.

I met my friend D for a matinee of “Land of the Dead” (meh, save your money), then stopped by his apartment in SoHo to drop off my stuff. He’s talked about how depressing it was to move from the sunny, spacious, rent-controlled apartment he shared with his girlfriend to a 6th-floor walkup that’s half the size and twice the price. I didn’t understand what he meant until I saw it. Dank and dark, with a miniature stove, teeny misshapen living room, half-size bathtub, bathroom sink like a dentist’s office… I half-expected Elijah Wood to toddle out of the second bedroom and offer me a flagon of Hobbit ale.

By dinnertime I was too hungry to crave anything. “Come on, be decisive,” D said, “This is New York. There’s nothing you can’t get here. If you want Irish food served by deaf Mexicans, we can make that happen. We’ll call it 'O’Que?'” And thus began the giggling.

(D is always ready with a gag, I love that about him. Like when I graduated from college and he wrapped my gift in job applications from Safeway, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It probably took him two hours to drive around and collect all those papers, but it was worth it just to crack me up. I think that’s one reason we’ve stayed so close for so long: We both understand the difference between a token and a true gift like laughter.)

Eventually we settled on sushi at a place D promised would totally knock my socks off. And oh. my. goodness. I’ve used the phrase “like butter” in this context before, but the salmon nigiri really did taste like a pat of sweet creamy Land O Lakes.

After a stop at Tasti DLite, I’d had enough for one day. Since D is a social animal, always partying on a Friday night, I was especially proud to have him home and in his PJs by 11:00. Even better, I handed his ass to him in Gin Rummy. We stayed up reminiscing about the summer we met and the one and only the time we made out, a dozen years ago, in the front seat of his 1990 Pontiac Firebird. "Open Arms." Open beers. Good times.

Around 1:00 a.m. I fell asleep on the futon and D retired to his tiny bedroom. He left the door open in case I woke up and felt like talking.

next entry: Saturday

Friday, July 08, 2005

NYC...what is it about you...

...that makes me get up at 6:30 in the morning and stand for a half hour in the pouring rain just to get on a bus and spend four hours on the New Jersey Turnpike...?

I'm off for a weekend of fun, apparently not in the sun, with my good friend D. Goals include catching up and damage control from his recent and very painful breakup with L.

I never know exactly what I'm going to get with D., but items on the tentative agenda include: scary movie; top-shelf sushi; giggling; shopping; the re-enactment of at least one Michael Jackson video; half a dozen embarrassing moments (see last item); frozen yogurt at Bloomingdale's; visit to gym and/or excuse-making followed by dragging; family BBQ at which I may pose as D.'s new girlfriend (too bad I'm not as good an actress as I am a friend); D. trying to push fattening pizza on me like cocaine on a junkie; Broadway show; off-Broadway show; off-off-Broadway show; and some kind of dramatic reading. (Note: D. and I are po' non-profit employees and the only reason we can afford to see all these shows, which honestly don't appeal to me all that much, is that he works for a theater company now.)

Hopefully I'll come back on Sunday with a bunch of exciting tales. Or at least some good jokes -- D. is full of those.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

mawage

This article is the suspected culprit in a couple of recent breakups among my extended circle of friends. Read it, then come back and we'll discuss.




Finished? Okay.

The friend who alerted me to the article called me in a rage and pledged to spend her three-day weekend composing a rebuttal. She hopes to find herself on the road to marriage soon, and I think she sees this article as a speedbump. I get where she's coming from -- the author is perpetuating a stereotype and sowing seeds of doubt -- but I don't share her outrage.

Tad Low may be commitment phobic, but he's not entirely off the mark. You can't ignore the statistics: More than half of all marriages fail. But where Mr. Low is mistaken, I think, is that it's not the institution of marriage that needs changing, it's our attitude.

Marriage is hard work. Just like your law degree or your medical residency. You have to put in the hours, both in preparation and in practice. People don't get that anymore. We're so used to instant gratification we rush to the altar faster than you can say "Evite." And our culture is so disposable, when the going gets tough we throw marriage in the recycle bin and wait for someone else to come clean it up.

The sad fact is that a lot of people research their cars more carefully than their life partners these days. I'm not saying you need to dig for Cayman bank accounts or corpses in the backyard. I'm saying ask the hard questions: What if your house burns down? What if your parents need care? What if your child gets sick? Or (God forbid) dies? What if you can't have children at all? Yeah, it's a buzz kill to talk worst-case scenario when you're trying to plan a wedding. But it could mean the difference between seven years and forever. I'm willing to bet that if you surveyed 10 couples, nine could list their fiancees' favorite pizza toppings and maybe three could tell you how their partners respond to crisis.

On the subject of children, I happen to agree with Mr. Low: I think kids are better off splitting time than living with parents who love their children but hate each other. Poker face be damned, kids are intuitive. They can read every emotion, spoken or not, and a silently hostile home only perpetuates dysfunction by setting a poor example. I say this not as the product of a broken home -- my parents have been married 34 years -- but as someone who's watched some friends go through it with their parents and others try to work it out with their kids.

Case in point: My friends M (her) and J (him) got married young. J is the youngest of six children, the collective product of their father's five marriages. After a year things got tough for my friends; They were both stressed and arguing all the time. M suggested counseling. J packed his bags and walked out. It wasn't constructive, but it was all he knew.

I've never been anybody's wife. These are just the opinions of one person who has seen, up close and personal, the ugly reality of more than one untended marriage. People cheat. People lie. People bring their mistresses on week-long business trips to San Francisco. That's what happens when you stop communicating with your spouse. If I ever get married, I want to be sure.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

doing it while you're young

Like penicillin and the telegraph, abortion rights are something my generation has seldom needed but always taken for granted.

But now that Justice O'Connor is packing her bags for Leisure World, the youngest generations may finally learn what it means to fight for a freedom more critical than Napster.

I think I've done a pretty good job educating my baby sister, at an age-appropriate level, about the ins and outs (pardon the expression) of playing with boys. But still I worry about her. She's not a fast girl -- which is good in the sense that she's a few years away from the condom-on-a-cucumber lesson, but bad because she's a bit naive. Not naive, really, just no more mature than a 14-year-old should be, which makes her less mature than most. Oh, and she's hot. Tall, willowy, beautiful, and totally unaware of the men who watch her walk by.

I worry about my sister and I fear for her generation. After a long fight between conservative and liberal parents' groups, our local school board recently folded on the issue of controversial (but essential) condom demonstrations and open discussion of homosexuality in its sex ed curriculum. Okay, maybe "folded" isn't fair; They decided to write a new curriculum designed to make everyone happy, and what that means specifically is yet to be seen. But whatever they pull together, most liberals agree it's a coup for the conservative right.

The school board is playing a dangerous right-wing game here. It's common knowledge that condoms are the only effective way to keep both your sperm and your STDs to yourself. And they're only effective if you know how to use them. I'm not saying every horny teenager who misses the rubber demo is going to run out and make a baby. But pregnancies happen, and diseases are spread -- even in affluent, educated communities like ours -- and ignorance is almost always to blame.

Of course, it could be worse: There are schools in America that embrace only abstinence, and avoid all discussion of gays and sex except in the context of eternal damnation. But I don't worry too much about them; They don't believe in abortion anyway.

So now reproductive rights (among other liberties) are on the chopping block, while parents and school boards see to it many of our nation's children never learn how to have sex -- and we know they're going to have sex -- without conceiving a child and/or making each other sick. Is it just me, or are we sliding backward? Is the Playtex disposable chastity belt not far behind?

Friends, I implore you, talk to the young people in your family. Teach them everything you know about sexual health, even if they act like they don't need to hear it. Too many parents don't talk about sex because they assume their kids are getting the facts elsewhere. And too many kids choose to ignore the information that's available because they think that either they already know it all, or that it'll always be there to learn. We have to consider the possibility, no matter how remote, that maybe it won't.

In the meantime, girls, hold on to your ovaries.