Saturday, November 28, 2009

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I have had to -- temporarily, I hope -- adjust the settings here so people can't post comments without typing in those annoying word-verification tests. I didn't want to do that, but for the past couple weeks I've been utterly slammed by spambots; deleting one or two bogus comments in a day is merely an annoyance, but twenty or thirty each day is a full-fledged problem.

I'll turn off the word-verification thing in a week or two and see how that works. Also, I have adjusted my political beliefs just enough to favor the death penalty for spambot comment programmers. (However, people who merely copyedit the spam should be exempt unless prosecutors can prove criminal intent, which they wouldn't be able to do in my case.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Erma Bombeck Has Nothing To Fear

With the exception of being "heterosexual" and "a tad vain about my appearance," I have always been an unconventional woman who wouldn't recognize traditional femininity if it kicked me in the balls (that I'd use such a metaphor only underscores my point). So it's no surprise that the helpful household hints article I wrote for the latest issue of Life@Home magazine goes horribly, tragically wrong.
Whenever I throw a holiday party I greet my guests at the door, express sincere happiness at their arrival, then lie to them. "Please excuse the mess," I say, making a vague gesture to encompass the house I'd been cleaning frantically all the previous week. "You know how hectic holidays are."

Technically speaking, this is not a lie but two completely unrelated sentences that just happen to be close together. If people mistakenly assume a connection — that the holidays rather than my own bad habits are responsible for any lapse in neatness standards — well, I never say anything because a good hostess knows it's rude to contradict guests, especially when they're just arriving at your party.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We Are Not Amused

Readers at the Guardian are spectacularly unimpressed by my essay on America's Ayn Rand revival. I knew I shoulda just reprinted my years-earlier discussion of what Ayn Rand can teach us about sex, or maybe my high school class notes from The Fountainhead.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

November 11, 1989, dawned a sunny and beautiful mid-autumn Saturday in southeastern Virginia. My family, along with the rest of the world, was in a fine mood: the Cold War ended two days before and on a personal level my father, who had retired from the Navy the previous year and had zero luck finding a job since, finally landed one, an awesome job that would pay more than he’d ever made as a Command Master Chief in the Navy, even with all his “nuke” bonuses. Between that and his pension, we’d practically be rich. And oh! the colleges, the wonderful wonderful colleges, I could now afford to attend! His job was to start in a week.

That morning my parents and younger brother loaded their bikes into the car to go riding on the beautiful wooded trails at the Mariner’s Museum in nearby Newport News, while I went to an extracurricular school activity. I was the first one home that afternoon, which didn’t surprise me at all; I ate lunch, thumbed through a book and after maybe an hour the phone rang. My mother, speaking in an odd tone of voice, wanted my grandmother’s phone number from the Rolodex. “Your father had an accident. He fell off his bike.”

I gave her the number, and she asked what I was doing.

“Not much. Thinking of going out, maybe.”

“Don’t go out. Stay home.”

“What?” I was confused. “If nothing else I need cigarettes and –”

“Take mine. The cartons are in the pantry. Stay home.”

She smoked a nasty menthol brand, and hung up before I could ask any more questions. But odd or brusque behavior from my mother wasn’t unheard-of. I shrugged, took a free pack from her personal stash and sat down to read.

Had Dad broken his arm, or maybe his leg? That would surely suck for him, but in the big scheme of things was a fairly minor matter at his age. It probably wouldn’t even interfere with his job; unlike the time he’d spent on ships and subs, his new career would be a desk-and-office gig.

I thought of all this rather than concentrate on my reading. That call felt strange even by my mother’s standards. Something about the voice. And telling me to take her cigarettes rather than buy my own! I smoked one of them, gave up all pretense of reading, and spent ten or twenty minutes chain-smoking and fidgeting and trying to quell a growing sense of unease until the phone rang again. My mother needed more numbers from the Rolodex and said, “Your father’s going into surgery.”

Surgery! What, did he break his arm?”

“He broke his neck.” But Mom didn’t want me coming to the hospital; I had to stay home and stay off the phone in case she needed more numbers or other information there.

After some hours, after dark, the phone rang again. This time it was my father’s Navy buddy, the guy he’d been friends with since we’d moved from Connecticut to Virginia twelve years before.

My father would be paralyzed, his friend said (and Dad remained a quadriplegic the rest of his life until he finally, mercifully, died too many years later). I needed to come to the hospital but my mother didn’t want me to drive. Could I find a friend to take me?

I gasped out a yes and hung up, but didn’t call anybody. I started screaming instead. I still don’t quite know why. Even in my early teen giggling years, if I got emotional I was more prone to talk faster; the more agitated I became, the more verbal I’d get but I was never really the squealy/screamy sort.

Except on the night of November 11, 1989, when for awhile I couldn’t talk at all but only let out wordless wails of horror and sorrow and the anguished helplessness when someone you love is suffering and there’s nothing you can do. I started upstairs with the vague thought If Dad’s in the hospital overnight he’ll need a change of clothes, then remember laying facedown on the stairs muffling my screams into the dense carpet.

But screaming is exhausting (no wonder I never bothered), especially after a bout of chain-smoking. I wound down after awhile and calmly – more or less – went upstairs to wash my face, then take what turned out to be a useless set of loose-fitting clothes from Dad’s dresser. I called a friend and remember almost nothing of her visit and our subsequent drive. I spent the night in the ICU waiting room watching the live news feed of ecstatic Berliners dancing on the Wall, and morbidly thought When the wall stood, Dad did too.

At one point I was allowed into my father’s hospital room to see him and talk to him and lie to him about how everything would be all right. I remember a tear, one single tear, fell from his right eye and trickled down the side of his face. I wiped it away before it reached his ear.

Sometimes, when I’m in bed just drifting off to sleep, the memory of that tear suddenly explodes in the forefront of my brain and makes me jerk awake. But that doesn’t happen too often anymore, since the memory’s twenty years old.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Can Happen Here

I give it ten years tops before the American government decides this is an idea worth stealing: the Japanese government, in an attempt to stave off an obesity "epidemic," has passed a law mandating maximum waist sizes for people over age 40: 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women. Anyone who surpasses that is required to undergo "counseling."

Story taken from the Global Post, which I devoutly hope is a heretofore-unknown subsidiary of The Onion. (My own waist, incidentally, has a circumference of just under 25 inches, but stories like this make me want to inhale a few gallons of Ben & Jerry's purely out of spite.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Public Healthcare And The Ghosts Of Boyfriends Past

Many years ago I dated (and soon broke off with) a man who tried hard to be a sociopathic control freak; if he’s still alive today he’s either bitterly single or settled down with some unfortunate doormat with no backbone of her own. One of his favorite stunts was to buy me, unbidden, a fairly expensive present, and then whine how he couldn’t afford to pay his bills because I cost him so much money.

It didn’t take long for me to grow tired of this, so one day, when he appeared with yet another surprise Swarovski bauble, I snapped “I hope you saved the goddamned receipt, because I'll no longer be blamed for your inability to manage your finances.”

We ended our acquaintanceship soon thereafter. Still, I was fortunate because I had the absolute legal right to tell him, “Keep your largesse and go fuck yourself, since I’ll no longer be doing it for you.”

But I can’t legally do that with the mandatory healthcare bill Congress is ramming down America’s throat. No: society’s buying me a sparkly expensive policy whether I want one or not, and since society’s spending all this money on me it’s only fair I do what society dictates to keep its costs in line. Don’t drink, don’t smoke! Both are unhealthy and violate my duty to the collective. Who the hell do I think I am – a grown woman who owns her own body? My selfish delusions cause pain to those who love me.

Did I eat enough salads last week? Yes, but those salads had an awful lot of cheese on them. Cholesterol! Let’s tax the cheese and with luck I can’t afford it. I require more roughage in the salad, and far less dressing and dairy. Did I put on sufficient sunblock before going outside? Not that it matters for my own sake but a bout of melanoma will cost the collective a LOT of money. Is my jacket zipped all the way up to the chin? Pneumonia’s expensive, and if the nice police officers want to set up roadblocks to make sure everyone’s properly dressed for the cold I shouldn’t complain, since it’s for my own good and the public health too.

I didn’t kick up a fuss when my loving mother did this to me at age four; why be immature enough to throw a tantrum at my age?
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