Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Charmless Philip's Charmed Life

He drove the Obamas and they survived
He spent his life lolling and always thrived
He ogled Ms. Kirkwood and friskily wrote
Those letters the Internet's not going to float
His queen was then pregnant: he wanted some fun
But he remained upright when all's said and done
I guess he was boring, I guess she was bored
By this observation we're none of us floored
The charmless old tuff as he's frequently called
Survived all the women he probably balled
Crashed into two cars but killed no one at all
Flipped over his vehicle, then had the gall
Uninjured, to wander and then to feel shocked
But that's what Brit royalty does--so they're mocked.*

Sing to the tune of "The Campbells are Coming"

P.S. In the immortal words of the long-lived prince: "When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife."

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Critical Mom's Meals Today

I just could not face healthy food today. At 6:15 a.m, the empty calories in my supermarket bread tasted just fine with coffee strong enough to walk on. At lunchtime, I thought I'd be more interested in the ham and lettuce sandwiches in the cafeteria. That brown bread, those tomato sandwiches. How about a tomato sandwich, Harriet the Spy's favorite lunch? I remember gobbling those when I was twelve--with Hellmann's mayonnaise, salt, dill, on Pepperidge Farm white bread. I had the usual theory: if I eat like Harriet and spy like Harriet, I'll turn into a writer. Just like Harriet. But no cafeteria sandwiches for me--all I wanted was that plastic cup of vanilla-and-chocolate pudding, which I downed with a café-au-lait. I was better at dinnertime: made a meatloaf crammed with red onions, garlic, red bell peppers, spinach, carrots, Parmesan, and spaghetti sauce. Gulped that down with lemon polenta and South African red wine. Does that make up for my junk food day? And who am I asking? God, or a dietician? Certainly not the internet. If you ask me, that was one good meal. Even my kids thought so.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Donald Trump and Boundaries

"How do Mexicans feel about Trump’s wall? – They’ll get over it."
Anonymous joke

How I hope they won't have to scale it--but if they do, that they'll make it. Maybe seventy years from now Lifetime Network will make films about brave Mexican families running zig-zag, eluding the  border guards trying to pepper them with bullets, or digging deep tunnels from Tijuana to San Diego. Yes, the way Germans make movies about East Berliners digging tunnels to freedom in the West before the wall fell. Vox has covered a history of walls and their failures to contain--in fact, their provocation to inspire us to climb them--but why would Trump choose this, or any, moment to listen? The man who wants the wall has no boundaries himself. He'll say he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and still get voted into office. He'll say the many dreadful things he has said, and will continue, to say. And if the wall isn't built? But somehow, with him, that means it's built to cacaphony, and therefore never built, and therefore built forever. With apologies to King Arthur, Trump's photographic negative. Nancy Pelosi will keep saying "No," and Trump will keep saying, "Over my dead body." Which would be a considerable climb. I wake at midnight wondering less what historians will say about these Trumpesque times, and more whether historians will exist after Trump finally dies. Even he must die, eventually. Right? But it's so hard to believe that he will ever deign to do so.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Critical Mom's Heritage

I took a "My Heritage" test and received enough information to construct a narrative. The info: I'm 41.6% English, 33.4% Scandinavian, 23.4% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, and 1.6% "West-Asian," which, on the map the company sent, corresponds to Turkey, Iran, a bit of Iraq, a dash of Afghanistan and a soupçon of Pakisatan.  
My narrative: Back in the eighth century, the English peasants were planting rye or crunching it up to make bread. Or tending their peas, beans, and onions. Or whiling away the evening in their huts by the fire dreaming of Morris dancing, which they'd invent a few centuries later, but meanwhile, they were just hooting odd noises that occasionally rhymed and became ballads. 
While the peasants were engaged in these activities, the tall, redbearded and blondbearded Vikings were speeding across the waves toward English shores. When the Vikings arrived, longing for art, music, culture, they killed the men and raped the women. Some of those women ran in the direction of Scotland, where they hid out in the highlands, some headed for Wales, where they tried to summon spirits from the vasty deep, and some encountered leprechauns on the road to Ireland. 
These women and their descendants lived in these places fairly happily until the late sixteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth I approved the charter of the Turkey company (1581) because she wanted to maintain trade and political alliances with the Ottoman empire. At least, Wikipedia says she did. If Wikipedia's right, then I suppose the descendant of one of those women who'd run from the Vikings enjoyed a romantic encounter with one of those Turkish or Iranian or Afghan or Iranian or Iraqi or Pakistani traders. That brings us almost to the seventeenth century, the one my father's side of the family claims altered family circumstances: Dad says "we" were Scottish peasants who became mercenary soldiers for William of Orange, and were granted land in an area that would later become Pennsylvania. Those lands not being arable, "we" walked to the Carolinas, where we became Southern Gothic. The other side of the family says "we" didn't like life in Taunton, England, which "we" abandoned in the eighteenth century for the chilly confines of Utica, New York. I know the rest of the story: my father's shrink fell in love with him. Having acquired a young, female patient whose prettiness she envied, the shrink tried to escape her inappropriate attraction by throwing him together with my mother. The two of them married in order to please their god, oh, excuse me, their shrink. I was born.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Palliative Care: Our House and Our Heroic Cleaning Lady

We have a wonderful cleaning lady who appears on time twice weekly and does what she can with us. But now that we have a few days off and I'm trying to do what my daughter calls "deep cleaning," I see that our cleaning lady's strenuous efforts are little more than a band-aid on a gaping wound.  I daydream about the staff of eight or ten that would, in Victorian times, have routinely maintained a home this size. Of course if we'd lived back then we'd be dealing with Victorian drains and antibiotics wouldn't have been invented . . . still, thoughts of a brisk, efficient maid tidying up the bookshelves while another brisk, efficient maid goes for the kitchen and yet a third folds the laundry--ah, these are pleasant dreams.

Part One: The Sofa

Looks lovely and is great to lie on. Folded all the blankets strewn around by late-night TV watchers, dusted the pillows, then pulled the whole thing out from the wall. So that's where two blue crocs that don't match went! I've been wearing their mates for the last six months. Also a pair of green crocs that my daughter may have outgrown, a pair of black crocs, a single multicolored croc whose mate is probably upstairs near my ballet barre, centuries of dust, old Cheerios, and a pair of orange glasses decorated with a dead spider.

Part Two: The Kitchen

Yesterday, one of the teenagers removed eight bags of garbage and indicated the fact on the calendar, where he also indicated that another sibling must now "do it twice!" or more, since he's done that himself . . . my teenagers love to fight about whose turn it is to remove the trash. Oh, excuse me, in my opinion. Meanwhile, the stove is a grease slick, the wok needs cleaning before I make dinner tonight, and what am I doing three flights up in my freezing study typing?

Part Three: The Bedroom

I removed the ancient quilt that was leaving a trail of feathers behind it, removed it as far as the laundry pile in the bathroom. Did I say pile? I meant the laundry mountain. Several laundry baskets of clean folded laundry adorn the bedroom floor. I won't tell you how long they've been there.

But we threw out the paper trash a few days ago!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"I Cannot Tell a Truth"

I wonder what Parson Weems would have done with Donald Trump. Mason Locke Weems, the first biographer of George Washington, invented the charming tale I was taught (or read in my parents' encyclopedia--I can't blame this one on my second-grade curriculum) that young George could not tell a lie. The future first POTUS chopped down his father's prize cherry tree with his little hatchet, so the story goes, and when interrogated said, "I cannot tell a lie," admitting the crime and being rewarded with kisses instead of punishment.
So the first president could not tell a lie--generations of schoolchildren believed--and the last (will America exist after Trump? Does it still exist?) can't tell the truth. He really can't. It's not even that he won't. He is incapable of telling the truth because he has no interest in doing so.

American Myth #1: The president cannot tell a lie. Now, like any other politician, he can. He's gone, in a way, all-embracing, if not upscale. American individualism, American expansionism, American exceptionalism, all express themselves with greatest fervor in the person of POTUS.

American Myth #2: "American history is immigration." It was. For Oscar Handlin, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Uprooted (1951) and the one who summed up American history in that memorable way, the people who brave the oceans and deserts to try to build themselves a life free of narcos and grinding poverty create America. That America now sits in cages at the border. Handlin, child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Harvard professor who directed eighty dissertations, could never have helped create America under the Trump administration. Imagine Oscar Handlin being told to go back where he came from. Or left in a cage to rot.
Maybe grass roots individualism still has a chance. Maybe free speech--which I thought Trump had rendered irrelevant--can get him after all. And if so, Merry Christmas!!:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Discombobulated Cancer Patient, the Ibrance and the Snooty Pharmacy Lady

I am probably known as the eccentric American at my local pharmacy, because I often cannot find the receipt for the medication I've paid for when I come to pick it up. Lucky for me the clerks are all very German and organized: "Ordnung Muss Sein" is the slogan by which Germans live, and they keep their own records and they find my stuff amazingly quickly.
But my personal style is more along the lines of "Chaos Must Be!" I find this sentiment works for many of life's thorniest issues, certainly the composition of essays, an activity in which I engage more and more. Fashion too. I buy a garment because the color grabs me, and later I realize it goes with this and that favorite thing. So I am only accidentally color-coordinated. I'm the same way with food: I buy carrots if they look fresh and four or five other items that strike my fancy and find, when I get home, that they all complement each other in a dish, and rare are the moments in my family when complaints emerge about the food. Maybe you'd call my style "unconscious" rather than chaotic. It's not deliberate, however, and not orderly, so would probably go with "chaos."
 I'm glad my dentist and my oncologist proceed along what seems compulsively careful, rule-driven lines. Less glad when the German bus driver opens the door on which I've just tapped only to howl indignantly, "PAUSE!" (translation: "It's my break! My five minute break! And no, you can't step in from the freezing temperatures and sit in the back of the bus while I consume my Butterbrot. Because I'm going to show you I have every right to my five minutes." To do otherwise would be to disturb order.
I walked into the pharmacy late on a Tuesday afternoon, having taught two classes, held office hours, and bought groceries. I was rolling a large shopping cart, carrying another heavy bag over my shoulder, and attempting to open my wallet and snag the receipt before the big bag fell off my shoulder. I didn't succeed. The pharmacy clerk, a new one unfamiliar with my lack of organization, beckoned me and I hauled all my bags up to her window and began explaining to her, as I went through section after section of the incredibly thorough wallet I bought at the (German) Christmas market last year, that I couldn't find the receipt.
"Are you speaking to me or to your wallet?" asked the clerk, smiling. It didn't seem to me that her smile was friendly. I apologized, located, finally, the receipt, and handed it to her. She gave me my medicine and as I put it in my bag I was still apologizing and feeling embarrassed.
So it was that I lost I medicine, I hoped not on the way home. I was searching for it for days, to the point where I nearly called my oncologist to request another prescription. I'd begun to consider looking up what I'd have to pay but of course chaotically did not, preferring to hope I wouldn't be spending more than 200 euros.
Now that I've just found the box of Ibrance, safe and sound, and will be able to start taking it as usual, the whole 21-day cycle again for the rest of the time the cancer lies in wait, not developing, being frustrated, I looked up the price on, which says: $11,797 is what I'd pay for a 21-day supply. 
After taxes, I make about 29,000 euros.
Good thing I did not lose that Ibrance, which probably would not have cost more than 2,741.61 euros here in Germany. Thank you, German government, and thank you, KKH insurance company, for saving the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer. 
No thanks to the sales clerk whose snarky moment pushed my normal discombobulation into enough chaos to eliminate my memory of where I'd set down the box of capsules. Bye-bye the two hours it took to find them. So glad to have them right where they belong on my coffee table.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Your Personalized Fulvestrant Shot: Every Nurse Has Her Own Style

Each nurse, I have learned, is unique. Each knows just how comfortable she feels about giving shots in general and that shot in particular, the one with the very long needle and the fluid that has to enter excruciatingly slowly.
"Wouldn't you like to stand?" said one nurse. "All the other ladies do!" She gestured to a medical machine sporting a small, apparently decorative railing where I might rest my hands as I waited, pants down, feeling very dignified as she drew imaginary lines on my buttocks with a finger, trying to find the exact right spot pictured on the diagram she was probably holding in her other hand.
Neither of us anticipated me needing that railing for support when I started to faint. The only thing that prevented my doing so as everything went black before my eyes was awareness of that dagger-length needle deeply embedded in my right gluteus maximus.
Next time, I asked "the other ladies" which nurse knew how to give the shot. Two nurses are reputed to be particularly skilled and they have the same name, let's say Susy. One is short, the other tall, so they're known as Big Susy and Little Susy. 
When I go for my monthly shot I ask if either is around and if I'm lucky I get to lie on my stomach and forget the shot after the initial brief stab. 
That was before I read some medical literature and discovered that many nurses don't know that Fulvestrant is supposed to be administered intra-muscularly, not sub-cutaneously. In the muscle, not just under the skin. This is just one of the several worrying info-sheets I discovered on the topic:
Every time I go for my shot, I introduce the term "intra-muscular" into the conversation, but of course I have no way of telling whether the shot's being served up that way. 
My last CT scan was clear.  Is that a clear sign the medicine's muscling its way through, well, muscle?
Meanwhile, yesterday's nurse insisted I lie on my side with one leg, the one with the targeted buttock, in front of me. I've been told to lie on my side before, but the leg-in-front was a first.
"But this is the correct way!" insisted the nurse. "This way, the muscle is relaxed!" If you say so, nurse. Definitely hurt more that way. As she administered the shot (takes a few minutes) she noted that I seemed to have very strong muscles. She seemed rather surprised. The other ladies don't do, or didn't do, ballet. I did do ballet. My muscles are not the relaxed muscles she was expecting to see. But then who's relaxed while experiencing a needle halfway up her butt cheek, through which a liquid battling cancer cells is pinching its way forward?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

American Optimism and Breast Cancer Commercials

I can't imagine more of a fun challenge than metastatic breast cancer--going by the various American commercials advertising Ibrance, the stuff that's keeping me alive (oh, with the shot of Fulvestrant in each buttock every month, the needle as long as a chopstick). I should be grateful, and I am--all this is much nicer than the chemo infusions I had before, which made me sleepy and nonfunctional and are allegedly chemically cousin to mustard gas. But the idea that cancer is merely pesky, that you can forget all about it--ahh, the commercials make that seem possible: "Alice calls it her new normal . . . because a lot has changed--but a lot hasn't." Or this line: "Metastatic breast cancer never quits . . . so neither do I!" Go, prizefighter! The voice-over tells you the stuff is great at "delaying disease progression" but no one can tell you how many golden drops of life that delay contains. Eight ounces? Just a teaspoon? How about the Atlantic ocean? I'm reminded of Thor getting tricked into saying he could finish off a whole drinking horn . . . only to discover that it was attached to the sea. I want that ocean--the ocean of life. The days when I never thought in terms of limited time, but in terms of forevers. I assumed a great deal. I assumed I'd live to see my children married, to become a grandma, to write a few more books, to get some second honeymoons with my husband. But what if the Ibrance only works for another few months? Then there's the Verzenio:
Yeah, cancer's tough, but so am I! Okay, got the message. You can look young and gorgeous even though all these meds are for postmenopausal women. Meanwhile, enjoy forgetting all about cancer. If I forget something that big, it's likelier a sign of brain rot, one of the side effects listed on the back of the package. The drug companies don't use that term, but when your estrogen's chemically compelled to dry up the first thing to go is memory. Am I complaining that big Pharma is really inventing big ways to prolong my life? Of course not. I'm inclined to find perkiness suspect, is all. I'd go for a commercial with dark humor or wit. I'd go for anything that doesn't call cancer "a journey." I'd go for something other than battle imagery, with the women as the lone fighter against the big bad monster. The underdog kicking the giant "to the curb." That American underdog stuff is old. I want something new: in the meds department it should be sweet, chewable, painless and entirely lacking in side effects. In the cure department it should be, well, complete.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On Renting Rooms

There's nothing people lie about more than their romantic and erotic past. Except, maybe, real estate. That's the conclusion toward which my husband and I have been tending, as we committed the classic error of landlords: we wanted to be friendly enough to ignore a dubious first impression and give the guy a chance. We should have been all business--at least until we got to know him. But we like to like people. We're university teachers--in the interest of squeezing a better essay out of a (lazy? distracted? indifferent? traumatized?) head, we sometimes ignore a deadline and encourage the kid to try again. Occasionally that works. After all, we're modeling what we wish for students to emulate: tolerance, perseverance and hard work. We follow that formula much of the time, but such second chances don't fly with candidates for rented rooms.
After my husband painted and renovated the room and bathroom our last (lovely) tenant had inhabited for nine years, we advertised and got a call from a distracted-sounding young man who seemed very interested. He reminded me, over the phone, of a marathon runner who'd forgotten which direction his feet were facing. But I figured he was charging around between work and potential rentals. I'm acquainted with stress, and figured his condition was temporary.
In person, he made a better impression. He told us where he worked and what he did, he convincingly assured us he wouldn't be a smoker by whipping out an asthma inhaler, he said he didn't cook much and worked long hours, and when we figured out he'd mainly be using the room to sleep and have a cup of coffee, and return to his large extended family over the weekend, we decided to offer him the place.
He wanted to pay in cash, right then and there.
That was when I should have asked myself whether he had a bank account. We didn't accept that offer, suggesting instead that he return to sign the lease when he could also bring proof of employment. 
In the States, I could ask for three references, including an employer, and phone them. Folks don't do that here, but I figured a letter or even an email from his employer would be a reasonable request. 
We made an appointment for our prospective renter to bring said proof and sign the lease. Instead, when he was supposed to be there, he phoned saying he was in a traffic jam. Could he come two hours later? Sure, we said. Another phone call: Could he come another day? Too much traffic. 
We settled on another day and a definite time. He wasn't there. He wasn't there half an hour after the appointed time, nor an hour later. We went to the movies. When we returned we found he'd called more than three and a half hours after our appointment and left the following message: "I had an emergency. Please call me." We didn't, instead emailing him that we'd given the apartment to someone else, figuring he was no longer interested. He then phoned three or four times in as many minutes insisting that we had to give him another chance because he had no other options and besides, he'd ordered furniture. We told him to cancel the furniture. Emails followed--all insisting he couldn't understand our position, none offering any proof of employment or explanation. 
I wish I'd trusted my first impression, and I hope the young person finds a suitable place. I'm so very glad it's not ours.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Donald Trump on the Pittsburgh Shootings

Guns in a house of worship? That is what Trump wants. He blames the dead for not bringing guns to synagogue. He blames the dead in high schools for not bringing guns to school. Trump has Jewish grandchildren, a Jewish son-in-law, a daughter who at least nominally converted to Judaism. Does he care about them? Does he assume they'll never have a problem because he can always hire bodyguards who carry guns?
He cares more about the NRA than he does about his family. Or about the American family. A mafia don, he's telling us we need protection.
Gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control gun control!
Please, gun control. That must now become our political, religious, moral, philosophic, and patriotic goal. All hands on deck.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Weathering it: American Serial Bombers

"We will get through this," I thought wearily, watching police cars zipping along a Manhattan highway with a bomb container unit. From the Weather Underground to the Unabomber to the Chelsea bomber, Americans have seen too many serial bombers. But the notion of bombing as an heroic act is unfortunately enshrined in our national anthem--the rocket's red glare is just what a crazy person imagines will give proof through the night that our flag is still there. He (it usually is--have there been any female serial bombers?) is lunatic enough to think our omnipresent flag, our flag that can't be avoided on T-shirts, pencils, decals, coffee mugs, aprons, is in danger of disappearing. And that the only thing one can do to protect it is bomb somebody you don't like.
What if America reformed itself the way Germany has? The Germans got rid of Hitler's "über alles," the notion of Germany "above all," and the German national anthem is now all about unity, protecting the fatherland through peaceful brotherhood:

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
 |: Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
  Blühe, deutsches Vaterland! :| 


Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
Towards these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the foundation of happiness;
 |: Flourish in the radiance of this happiness,
  Flourish, German fatherland! :| 

Like the American national anthem, the German one leaves women out--efforts have been made to put them back in, or at least to speak of "homeland" rather than "fatherland" and "courageous" rather than "brotherly." Change doesn't happen quickly in Germany--possibly happens more slowly here than elsewhere. But you don't see serial bombers sending explosive packages to their least favorite politicians. There's no NRA dominating the economic scene. Violence is unfortunately enshrined in the American national anthem, associated with glory, with a perverse version of "manhood" and with the gory triumphs of violent conquest. How about a makeover in the national anthem department?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"American History is Immigration" and the Honduras Caravan

In The Uprooted (1951) the historian Oscar Handlin observed, "American history is immigration," a statement that stirred pride and perhaps stemmed racism. The Irish, so abused a century before, had settled into the middle class. Other groups became the new kid on the block. Although the tension between the notion of the "natives," sometimes deeming themselves the "real Americans," and the recent arrivals has never been eliminated, the Trumpesque choices to separate Mexican babies and children from their mothers, to turn back the desperate Honduran group on its way to the U.S. border, and to tell the president of Honduras that all aid will be denied if he allows Hondurans to enter the United States, represents yet another un-American low. Trump has normalized trauma, but the wholesale rejection of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free destroys the ideal on which America was founded. Not to mention his earlier scapegoating remarks. Divide and conquer, divide and conquer, divide and conquer: that is Donald Trump's modus operandi. Can we return to the foundational concept of E. Pluribus Unum, out of many, one, instead of the divisive "In God We Trust?" Our gods are as diverse as our origins, Oscar Handlin might have observed. But out of our many, we can still make one group dedicated to the peaceful betterment of all. And that includes welcoming the the wretched refuse of some other nation's teeming shore. America is rich, and could use its wealth to welcome those who want to work, to belong, to help.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cringing at Kavanaugh

Watching Brett Kavanaugh get sentimental--"My little daughter--she's all of ten (choke!) said we should pray for the woman!"--was sobering. Does he actually believe what he's saying? Or does he feel his past just doesn't work in the conversation right now? Or is it dawning on him that he hopes to protect her from guys like himself? Would anyone be surprised if, when she grows up, she goes for guys who have alcoholic blackouts?
In 1991, when Anita Hill was testifying about her boss, Clarence Thomas, eyeballing her and commenting on her "large breasts," Senator Arlen Spector seemed to think this was "not too bad" and Senator Joe Biden questioned her in jawdroppingly inappropriate ways--the C-SPAN recording of the event may be found on You-Tube but not uploaded, but at approximately one hour and three minutes the harassment of Hill by senators who ought to have known better intensifies. Politico has harvested the worst moments on another video that won't upload.
The difference between the "younger, whiter Clarence Thomas," as Randy Rainbow dubbed Brett Kavanaugh, and the original lies in the degree of violence. Both men kept going when the women whom they assaulted said "no," and "please stop." Thomas's assault remained verbal--urging Hill to watch a video called "Long Dong Silver" when she wouldn't accept his invitation to go out with him. Kavanaugh's drunken physical assault on a terrified Christine Blasey Ford, who thought she would die of asphyxiation, when both were teenagers, may be something he can't remember--but he remembers going out with his friends, partying, and drinking into oblivion.  As many American law professors have noted, a man who responds with the arrogance and belligerence of Kavanaugh on the witness stand is not a man whose judgement is steady enough for the highest court in the land--whether he's guilty of assaulting Ford or not. Asked whether he'd had an alcoholic blackout, Kavanaugh retorted, "Well, have you?" His tears came across to me as "No fair, Mommy." A woman crying like that on the witness stand would have been shredded by her questioners. Somehow, his tears were seen by those in power as humanizing him. And they do--they show our worst side. No one, he has said, is above the law. He may well get away with lying--it looks as though he has done so, and I wish I could be optimistic about efforts to impeach him. But the truth has a way of worming its way to the surface. No matter what he may achieve, no matter how high he climbs, he'll always know how drunk he got and how the booze brought out his worst side. He'll always know from his pals what he did when he was drunk. What affect will his past have on his daughters? The truth will out in their lives, possibly in their choice of future life partners.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Criminal Confirmation

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a symptom. A man of bad character, a liar, one who feels entitled to lie, has just been confirmed to the Supreme Court. He's not the first justice unworthy of the court--we can look back to the Dred Scott decision, the Plessy Vs. Ferguson decision. Lists of bad justices are popping up on the net. But we thought we'd risen above. We have Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We still have her. A man like Kavanaugh, however, makes it impossible to respect one of the most powerful institutions of the land--a defining American institution. Our democracy is in tatters. Is civil war next? We are already engaged in a civil war, divisions growing ever deeper. The answer is to "hold together, try to be nice," as the German satirist Jan Bohmermann sang, prophetically, in his video, "Be Deutsch," reminding Germans who reject immigrants of the dangers of division and racisim:

We Americans have to hold together, try to be nice, too. Even with Kavanaugh in the court. The next step is impeachment, of him, of Trump. Not despair--not screaming through confirmation hearings, either. Just unified, absolute opposition. Kavanaugh is a symptom of who we are becoming--behaving as badly as he behaved during his hearings should not be one of our options. Removing him from office in a quiet, absolute, legal way is the next step.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Supremely Kavagaughed

I'll take the Randy Rainbow version of the story--it's the likeliest. Salt in the Jeff Flake elevator moment and what do you get? I'll play it safe and say I don't know, but I made sure, long before I could hope that Bill Cosby would serve time, that my fourteen-year-old daughter and my sixteen-year-old son knew never to take a drink you don't open yourself. Before I said another word, my sixteen-year-old added, "And no means no." We raised him right. We raised them both right. Their big brother got the same talk, and set a good example. 
What goes through the minds of the entitled, the privileged--the Chase Finlays, the Bill Cosbys, the Brett Kavanaughs? What goes through the minds of their defenders? Maybe the last question is the easiest to answer: fear. I think these women, the holdouts of the cult of domesticity, believe their protectors will vanish if certain crimes are acknowledged. It's much easier to say boys will be boys, look forward, not back, pretend it didn't happen, or if it did, it happened so long ago that we should all forget about such things. Distasteful to mention, distasteful to think about. This stance encourages Chase Finlay to call Alexandra Waterbury a "career ruiner" and to send his goons to threaten her. This stance allowed Cosby to stay free far too long. In an ocean of evidence, he kept his head way above water. This stance--it allows Kavanaugh to whine: "No fair, Mommy!" say the tears spouting from his eyes. The cynicism pouring from his sentimentality is nauseating. He would have done better to concede at the outset, to say: "Yes, I behaved wildly as a young man, I drank too much, I had blackouts, this vision of me presented by Ford rings true--but I'm no longer that man. I've reformed." He might have lost his chance sooner, but he could have walked away with honor. That option is no longer open.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sex, Lies and Privilege at the New York City Ballet

Alexandra Waterbury’s nightmare would be mine: photos of me, vulnerable, naked, taken without my knowledge or permission.

For some time, I’ve wondered why anyone would permit nude photos in the first place--but these were not permitted. Why hand ammunition to someone of whom you may, at the least, tire? Not to mention dislike? Hate, even? I’m often met with a blank stare when I mention nude photos to persons younger than myself. They feel that any old photo, including or especially nude ones, is just a regular part of a relationship. They’re de rigueur.

These photos, taken on the sly, stole Waterbury's trust, her peace of mind, her sense of security. Taking a woman’s photo without consent exploits the woman. The obvious needs to be stated. I can well imagine Ms. Waterbury’s shock, sadness, disappointment—I can imagine the moment when she realized she had trusted a man whose desire to score overpowered any sense of judgement he may have had. If allegations that he trashed a Washington D.C. hotel room, encouraged friends to treat girls like “farm animals” and “sluts” are true, he was a bad choice for a boyfriend.

Mr. Finlay comes across on videos as a highly talented dancer from a wealthy background. He is devoted to his craft. Born and raised in Fairfield, CT, he loves to golf with his father. Every inch the privileged preppy, he remains a familiar type. A generation ago, male dancers often felt they had to prove they were straight by treating women like sex objects. Is that still the case? Or is the exuberant Mr. Finlay just getting away with his bad behavior because the NYCB did not think to curb it?

What did his parents teach him? How I wish I’d been a fly on a golf club, listening to the conversation of father and son. Or perched on the perfectly polished glass coffee table, taking in the family atmosphere. If there is one.

Because nice boys just don’t do what he did. Take advantage of a girl who was naïve, and probably dazzled by his fancy background.

But such exploitation is not new at the City Ballet. I am old enough to remember the stories of Balanchine bribing female dancers with household appliances if they let him cop a feel. Telling girls with agonized ligaments to just have a glass of red wine. Handing Gelsey Kirkland amphetamines to force her through a performance.

Drugs and anorexia seem to have faded from dance education, but the sexual balance of power continues to be a problem. I applaud Ms. Waterbury’s courage; it’s not easy to sue a big ballet company, to get stuck in a limelight much less glamorous than the stage at Lincoln Center.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mr. Or Ms. Anonymous New York TImes OP-ED

My money is on Jared Kushner. Ivanka Lady-Macbethed him, and I would bet she'd have plucked the baby's boneless gums from her nipple and dashed its brains out had she sworn--the dud promised to marry her, right? Oops, that would be dude. Dude. But from her point of view, we can leave out that final "e".
Or did she write the thing herself? No, maybe Kellyanne Conway? These are some alternate facts all her own? Or the whole thing was a team effort led by Mike Pence? Oh, let some computer analyze the style.
The Hardy Boy books were written by committee. And it'll take a hardier mind than mine to figure this one. Sure doesn't bother Mr. T, recently pictured by Barry Blitt running through the woods just ahead of the basset hounds. I liked the missing shoe, Mr. Blitt. I wish the real Trump were as foolish as he seems in your cartoons and onscreen, but my fear is he reads people and situations like Sherlock Holmes. Maybe I'm wrong. Tell me I'm wrong. 
P.S. Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Undermine from within. Do it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Opioids and Me: A Cautionary Tale

No, I didn't take them to entertain myself. I had to. They'd planned on spinal anesthesia, the young doctors down at the university hospital, but after several painful tries on my scoliosis, they gave up--I was glad they did--and moved on to this other big O. 
"You will feel darkly disoriented," said the surgeon in green (I'm translating a German verb meaning exactly that). I was lying on the operating table, a rubber-scented oxygen mask over my nose and the room already spinning.
I can liken today's experience to extreme drunkenness, an unpleasant state I have endured only once, at the accidental instigation of my mother, who brought a gallon bottle of Gallo (this was 1970s Gallo) to a lobster dinner. The two of us drank every drop, since our friends had brought their own beer. The room, nay world-spinning feeling--our friends had to walk us home--culminated in the very same side effect as the operation-room opioids: projectile vomiting. 
This known side effect had inspired the notion that on this occasion, the surgeons would rely on spinal anesthesia. Last time, I totaled the bedside phone in my hospital room, and remembered when my oldest child, a large bowl placed beside his head, nevertheless turned and vomited across the room, missing not one spot.
"Mommy, you put the bowl on the wrong side!" He insisted. The look on the nurse's face, as she was attempting to clean the phone before giving up and throwing it away, approximated, I suppose, the look on mine upon receiving this information from my child. 
After today's surgery--minor--I requested breakfast. I got hospital lunch. First, it seemed to go down fine. I was very hungry. After I got home, my stomach rebuked me.
But I am proud to say, Gentle Reader, and if you're still with me you really are gentle! that  today, I projectiled into the toilet. At least all this happened in the comfort of my own home. I was experiencing one of those dreadful choices one must make when both ends of the alimentary canal urgently need to unload. I gambled, and I won! "Pee or puke first?" I made the right choice, you need not know which one. I am so glad to be home. It's my twentieth wedding anniversary, and my husband and I had been anticipating a night on the town, complete with wine. "No wine today!" said the doctor who let me go home. Good thing I followed orders.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Yes, We Have No Anesthesia

That's the story I got when the interns knocked on the door--I'd been prepped for surgery the day before: taken my numbered slip from the machine, gone through the conversation with the secretary for whom I feared I might have to find my American passport, brought my labels and papers to the nurse's desk. Many a test tube of blood was drawn by somebody who was clearly in the learning phases, a conversation with the anesthesiologist completed, the hospital evening meal consumed--a greasy slab of mortadella, a cheese labeled "Gouda," though you'd never know, and two slices of bread. Then I lay awake--who sleeps on the night before surgery? Good thing I didn't take the sleeping pill they offer to the anxious. I'm always anxious--why start with pills now?
So there I was, an indelible black X circled on my leg, where surgeons are going to remove the too-long screws, which hold in place the rod now decorating my femur after a tumor was removed last January. That rod, incidentally, has visited the Eiffel Tower, plus papal and princely palaces in Avignon and Monaco, without setting off metal detectors. I always whip out my hospital card, identifying myself as a patient with metal in her leg, and they always wave me through, and the sophisticated machine never beeps, a fact rendering me nervous.
So there I was, with the black X, the white compression stocking on the other leg, a signal not to cut there, and the unspeakably unattractive hospital johnny that barely ties at the back, plus the nylon net panties that don't bring out the most attractive aspects of one's privates.
There I was. In they came, the interns in the white coats, saying they didn't have good news. "We have no anesthesia," they claimed, hastily adding that the nurse's strike--currently in its twelfth day--had "nothing to do with the problem." My surgery is not an emergency, and they were doing emergencies all night. Apparently the anesthesia people require sleep. But hey, I wanted to say: I watch Gray's Anatomy, and I just know they never sleep. Yesterday, however, during the conversation with the young anesthesiologist, I observed the bags under her eyes and estimated she'd been vertical for more than 48 hours. I guess she's human after all. But so am I. Now I'm, home, disoriented, and doing laundry. In a week, I'll return to the hospital, possibly with the X marking the spot still intact.