Thursday, July 6, 2017

Top of the Heap

I have a confession to make: I don’t heart New York.

I know it’s not a popular position to take, but my family and I just returned from a trip to the Big Apple, and I have to admit, I am not equivocating when I say I’m not crazy about it. I don’t feel safe. I don’t like the rudeness. I don’t care for the smells. It’s too big and has too much going on. It’s just too much everything.

I have lived in the South, or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, almost all of my life. While I live in what would best be described as a small, generic city, I’ve been to big cities many times. San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, Washington DC, Phoenix, Atlanta, Los Angeles…I actually quite enjoy a nice vacation to an urban center where I can have the kinds of experiences that are lacking in my own town. I love to visit museums and eat fabulous food and walk and explore. I could navigate public transportation on my own if I had to, although I generally am with my family when I do. I feel comfortable, even when I am out of my element.

I have been to NYC before, although it has been almost 20 years since my last visit. I’ve done some touristy stuff. I’ve gone cheap, and I’ve had a touch of luxury. It doesn’t matter how I travel there; it’s just not my cup of tea. I grew up in a time when New York was considered dangerous, and clearly, it left a big impression on me. When I think of New York, my mind goes to some dark places. Rape in Central Park, muggings on street corners, Son of Sam during a black out kind of dark places.

I never said my New York state of mind was rational.

Our recent trip did not change my opinion. For starters, we went during a bit of a heat wave, when the temperatures creeped over 90 degrees every day. I am used to heat and humidity, but I am also used to functional air conditioning. New York’s buildings are sorely lacking in good A/C. Ducking into a store does not offer you any relief from the oppressive heat. Restaurants won’t give you ice unless you ask, which may be the norm in Europe, but doesn’t fly in the US. Schvitzing doesn’t even begin to describe the kind of sweaty mess I became.

Everywhere we walked was filthy. Not like cigarette butts and empty Big Gulp cups filthy, but actual trash bags piled torso high on every street, food and feces on the sidewalks filthy. You would think over the past hundred years or so they would have come up with a better system for public sanitation than throwing your trash in the streets.

There was a constant rivulet of water flowing along each curb, rehydrating the forgotten garbage, which we referred to as “street juice.” On our last morning there, we were treated to a true New York moment. A rat skittered out of a construction site near the Hotel Chelsea, where Sid murdered Nancy, to gingerly sip at the street juice before darting back to the safety of darkened building. We silently ate our doughnuts and watched the spectacle.

Last year, when we were in San Francisco, we marveled at the commitment to public recycling that one would expect in California. NYC doesn’t give a shit about the environment, which is why tossing your trash in the street is just fine. In fact, a small population of elderly people takes the garbage sorting literally into their own hands, most likely as a way to make ends meet. You can feel bad about the pollution and the lack of public services for the needy at the same time.

If you really want to feel bad, check out the handwritten cardboard signs in front of many homeless people around the city. I couldn’t buy a bottle of water for everyone, and I couldn’t reconcile doing nothing. Instead, I avoided eye contact and felt like an entitled piece of shit.

While riding in a taxi, we saw a homeless man pissing on the sidewalk. Common decency would dictate we look away, but my curiosity got the better of me. I was treated to a view of him using a wad of discarded napkins to wipe his ass inside his shorts. You better believe I thought about that the rest of the time we walked around the city, which made me feel even more like an entitled piece of shit.

Did I mention the incessant honking? What is that going to accomplish? Also, is there any time of day that an emergency requiring firetrucks, police cars, or ambulances is not occurring? The City
That Never Sleeps needs to give it a rest.

Everything in New York is so GD expensive. My husband kept joking about eating in NYC for $400 a day, but seriously, other than the Staten Island ferry, nothing is free. The food is crazy expensive, as are the museums, hotels, transportation, clothing, etc. It was frequently cheaper to take Uber everywhere for the four of us than it was to ride the subway or a taxi. We did use the subways a few times, and they rival the streets for the dirtiest spots in the city. The black grime that covers most surfaces is not just a few decades of buildup; it is the actual decay you would expect in a dystopian movie. I kept yanking my older daughter away from the edge of the platform while we waited for a train. She just wanted to find Pizza Rat, and I was petrified some lunatic would push her on the tracks.

Let’s take a moment to talk about Times Square. Why is it a thing? Part of the road is blocked off for pedestrians, and that area is lined with concrete barriers to prevent crazies from plowing their cars into the crowd. Inside the barriers, however, anything goes. Women with their breasts painted in patriotic colors posed for photos with tourists. A variety of statues of Liberty stood around with sunglasses and flags in case you want the ultimate picture. The crowds. The smells. The noise. The flashing signs. My ADD self didn’t know where to look, and the overstimulation was practically debilitating. Nothing about it was fun or enjoyable, and none of it felt safe. It was the kind of atmosphere that could turn bad at any moment, and I didn’t want to be there when it happened.

I don’t want you to think that I hated every moment of my vacation, because I didn’t. I had a lovely time, in fact. I reconnected with a dear friend from high school. I marveled at the skyline from the Empire State observation deck. I saw the newest production of 1984 on Broadway. I tasted pastrami at Katz’s. I strolled the High Line. I took a picture of my husband grabbing the balls of the Charging Bull on Wall Street, although I am not allowed to show it to anyone. We covered a lot of territory, and we ate some marvelous food, and all in all, we had a great time.

I’m just not eager to go back again any time soon.

Monday, March 6, 2017

There's the Rub

A few months ago, when my sister, LK, came to town for a visit, we wanted to treat ourselves. We are normally pedicure fans, but there’s a local place that offers foot reflexology and massages that I wanted to try. I had not been able to talk anyone into going with me, and honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go alone. It seemed like the kind of experience that required a witness and possibly a safe word. I also wasn’t entirely sure what it involved, but it was an hour long and cost the same as getting my toes painted, so it seemed worth a gamble. My daughter, S, wanted to join us because her feet are a hot mess from years of dance, or more specifically, years of pointe shoes. I made reservations for the three of us.

The foot massage place was located in a strip mall, and it had the same sort of feel as a Chinese take-out. There were handwritten signs on the windows with the specials scribbled on them: Good Deal 30 min foot 30 min massage, and Treat Self, 50 min massage with 15 neck, walk in welcome. We went inside and were met at the door by a tall Asian man who did not speak but indicated through gestures that we should follow him. He never asked for our names, but I guess we were the only party of three that came in, so there was no need for formalities.

Down the hall were a series of small rooms with open doorways, some of which were partially obscured by a curtain of sheer fabric or hanging beads. Most had a single massage table in the center of the room, which made me wonder how many massages could be performed at the same time. I suppose it would depend on the therapists scheduled at a particular time. That made me wonder if they had a busy time because they are open seven days a week for roughly twelve hours a day. That made me wonder about the privacy. These were small rooms, mind you. Even hookers would have felt exposed.

He led us to a dimly lit room with about eight black leather padded chairs with ottomans, all in a row. Half of the chairs were occupied by older Asian women who had towels on their laps. Some of them were having their heads rubbed, while others were receiving their vigorous foot massages. All of the massage therapists, if you will, were middle-aged to older Asian men.

The man pointed at three vacant chairs. I sat in one, S took the seat next to me, and LK sat in the third, closest to where the rest of the action was. LK immediately settled back on her chair and closed her eyes. She is quite adept at relaxing. S, on the other hand, has never had a massage, not even of her feet, and she certainly hasn’t been touched by a grown Asian man. She sat up stiffly, trying not to stare at the other patrons. The men were finishing up their massage work by slapping the bottoms of the ladies’ feet and pounding on their calves with fists.

S tapped me on the arm and bugged out her eyes. Let’s just say she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to relax. It didn’t occur to me until that moment that a grown man, an absolute stranger, was about to put his hands on my fourteen year old child. This was exactly the kind of situation she spent most of her life trying to avoid.

One of the men finished and left the room. He returned carrying a large wooden bucket. It was lined with a clear plastic bag and filled with water. He set it down in front of my chair and indicated that I should put my feet in it, which I did. It was tepid and felt a bit like I had my feet in a small trashcan that had been left out in the rain. He left the room and came back with the same setup for S, and then a third time for LK. My sister stuck her feet into her bucket and reclined again. S couldn’t decide what to do. I gestured to her to roll up her pants and stick her feet in the water. In her awkwardness, she managed to kick the bucket accidentally and spill half the water onto the floor.

We sat with our feet in buckets, trying to relax. After a little while, the first Asian man and two other men came in and sat on the ottomans. They worked in a synchronized rhythm, first lifting our feet out of the buckets, then patting them dry with towels before repositioning the ottoman and starting the reflexology portion of the massage.

Reflexology must involve some ancient Asian wisdom, but on the surface, it is more a combination of ungodly pressure that manages to hurt and tickle at the same time. There is a lot of toe pulling and arch irritating, interspersed with ankle twisting. It’s a bit more spirited than your standard Swedish massage technique, designed to get deep into the tissues that may or may not correspond with your inner organs that could possibly release whatever toxins may be hiding there.

I tried to remain calm but I couldn’t. I sat there stiffly with my feet in a stranger’s hands, worrying about my daughter next to me. Maybe that’s why spas tell you to leave your children at home.

 After the foot squeezing ended, they slapped the bottoms of our feet and pounded on our calves and thighs with closed fists. It didn’t hurt, but it also didn’t feel good, like getting hit with a ball that was thrown underhand.

Finally, the Asian men moved behind our chairs and began the neck and head portion of the massage. Normally, I rather enjoy a scalp massage, but not with hands that are covered in feet cells. I didn’t recall the men leaving the room to freshen up; they just switched positions and kept at it. Feet in hair, hair on chair. I wanted to take a peek at their DHEC inspection paperwork, but I also wanted to get my money’s worth. After some uncomfortable neck squeezing and odd arm pulling, the spa treatment ended.

They left the room and the three of us sat up, unsure of what to do next. We stepped into our shoes and walked back down the hallway to the counter near the door where we entered. A woman stood behind the counter, and on the floor next to her was a baby. The baby fussed as she tried to indicate, without words, what we needed to pay. We settled up as she passed the baby over to one of the foot-rubbing men, and he tried to calm it. Apparently, this was one spa that was fine with children of all ages.

Would I go again? Absolutely! Thirty bucks for a complete stranger to rub my feet in a non-sexual way is a steal, people. It might not be the most relaxing spa treatment, but you get what you pay for. Although, you might want to leave your kids at home.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: Part I of the Women's March

Have you wondered what makes people take action? Sometimes it is in their nature to stand up and speak out. Sometimes, it takes a little support and encouragement from likeminded people. Sometimes, it’s just a text.

I got a text message from my friend MH: Do you want to go with me to the women’s march in Washington?

I don’t remember how long after the election that the march was proposed and announced. I had seen it on Facebook, and thought about how much I wanted to participate. I also thought about how unlike me it would be to go that far outside of my comfort zone. I knew, in a million years, I would never do something like that on my own, but that text message was an invitation, an opportunity. I could say yes and join with many other women who had enough of the erosion of our rights and freedoms. Or I could say no and continue to sit on my couch and watch the news and grow more hopeless and angry and distraught.

I answered MH’s text: Yes!

We discussed the possibility with each of our husbands. We weren’t looking for permission or even reassurance. We just wanted to make sure we had parenting coverage in our absence and no scheduling conflicts. When we were given the all-clear, I contacted my wonderful friend, SS, who lives near DC and is always happy to play host. He graciously agreed to house us, which meant we had the means and the wherewithal. We still needed the nerve.

I don’t want to say we needed the balls to join the march. We need to stop saying that balls equal courage. Balls don’t do anything particularly courageous. They just hang there and go along for the ride. You know a brave organ? A vagina. That thing is from where we all enter the world, and to where a large majority of people, mostly men, spend the rest of their lives trying to return. That is where bravery is born, where it perseveres, where it overcomes.

We didn’t need the balls to go; we needed to pussy the hell up.

As the date of the march drew closer, we started to lose our resolve. MH and I each had concerns about the crowd size and safety of the event. Around the same time, sister marches began popping up around the country. One was going to happen nearby, in Asheville. Another was scheduled to take place right here in our town. We debated heading to Asheville because it felt safer. We debated staying here, but it didn’t seem like taking a stand. Then we debated going to the beach because, well, it’s the beach.

One week before the march, we texted again. MH wanted to know what I thought. I said I thought the only thing stopping us was fear, and fear was precisely thing we wanted to protest against. The president-elect campaigned by exploiting fear. If we didn’t want to live in fear for the next four years, we needed to take a stand now. That being afraid to go was exactly why we should. MH agreed. She didn’t want to have any regrets. We felt it was going to be historic and more significant than we thought we knew, and someday, we could sit and tell our grandchildren about the time we marched in Washington to stand up for what we believe.

A few days before our trip, MH found “Thelma” and “Louise” t-shirts at the mall. We went back together to try them on, and thanks to serendipity, we found the right sizes with the right names.  While checking out, MH told our cashier we were buying the shirts because we were headed to the march in Washington. She thought that sounded fun, and then asked us if we were going to Washington State. MH maintained her smile and said, no, DC. She had no idea what we were talking about.



After we got our shirts, we decided to search the mall for fanny packs. We both thought they made the perfect march accessory; we could stash our IDs, some cash, cell phones, perhaps a tissue for uncontrolled emotions, leaving our hands free for protest signs, throwing punches, or rubbing the tear gas out of our eyes. Our first stop was Forever 21. We figured they would have fanny packs as an homage to the 80’s, but no such luck. We did ask a girl who worked there if they had any. MH told her we were going to the march. She too had no idea what we were talking about. We tried a department store, but they had nothing resembling a fanny pack. We finally stopped at the lone luggage store, where an older woman and gentleman were working. We asked them if they had fanny packs. The woman said yes and asked us if we were going to the march.

We confirmed our trip with SS, our host. He didn’t want anything but a pussy hat, but it was too late for me to get one. I baked him his favorite cake instead.

The next morning, MH drove to pick me up. I had my suitcase, the cake, a few signs my daughter made, and my favorite pillow. She too had her bag and favorite pillow. We both packed our anti-anxiety medication, our insurance policy if we lost our nerve.

We hit the road in our matching t-shirts, ready to join forces with like-minded Americans who also had no intention of sitting quietly. We felt empowered, strong, confident, until we had to stop to pee. Then we kind of felt dorky in our matching t-shirts. Clearly, we loved the idea in the car, but out of the car was another story. Some people just looked at us. Some people told us they liked our shirts. And some women, well, they asked us about the march. They got it.

When we arrived at SS’s place, we took a moment to relax, and then we changed clothes before dinner, just like Thelma and Louise would have done.

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meditation Rumination

How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?

I am not a huge fan of resolutions. I don’t need another reason to feel disappointed in myself, so I try pretty hard to avoid making them. If I do make one, I choose a goal that is relatively minor. I might decide to read a certain number of books, or maybe go to bed earlier, or make an effort to be more social.

On the other hand, I also realize that the New Year gives all of us the opportunity to check in with ourselves. The change of the calendar year is a good time to take a little inventory, to make a commitment to personal growth and self-improvement. Most of us could stand to be more forgiving or to eat healthier or to exercise more or to be less judgmental. Most of us also know that by the end of January, all that good living sucks the fun right out of a person.

After a rough end to 2016, I knew I needed to make an effort to find my mojo again. I have been disheartened by the state of politics here and abroad, and that hopeless feeling is not going to go away on its own. I discussed my concerns with my therapist, and she issued me a challenge. She proposed I meditate every day for the next thirty days.

She is fully aware that self-care, and specifically meditation, is not something that I do. I took a meditation workshop once, and it wasn’t just an abject failure, it was actually physically painful. I sat in a room with five strangers, one of whom a business associate of my father-in-law’s, who was in the midst of a bit of a rough patch in his marriage. I knew of him and his situation, and he of course knew my last name, and any attempt I made to clear my mind for the remainder of the workshop was met with massive internal resistance. My restlessness interfered with the rest of the workshop participants’ ability to meditate. I never tried that again.

Over the years, my therapist has recommended many things that I have found impossible to accomplish. No meditating. No journaling. No weekend retreats. None of those things that would be specifically for me, to give myself a break, to afford myself the same care and support I freely give to those around me. Me agreeing to meditate for ten to twenty minutes for thirty days is a big fucking deal.

This afternoon, I made my first attempt. I sat in a comfortable position, but not too comfortable so I wouldn’t fall asleep. I selected a guided meditation on my app for boosting self-esteem, and for eleven minutes, I dedicated myself to just listening to the words and not thinking.

My first thought while trying not to think was the girl speaking could not have been older than 14. How was I supposed to find solace in the words of an infant? I attempted to concentrate on her words and not how her voice sounded, but that grew more difficult as the drone of leaf blowers outside grew louder by every second. We don’t have a lawn service, so I knew it wasn’t even in my yard, but Jesus those things are noisy.

I focused on what she said, but I couldn’t. She would make a statement and then repeat it with emphasis by adding the expression “I desire.” For example, “I deserve to be loved, I desire to deserve to be loved,” or “I am good enough, I desire to be good enough.” All that desire was, frankly, disturbing me. Why desire? Why not yearn or strive or wish to? I was uncomfortable listening to what this woman desired; it was borderline voyeuristic.

I kept my eyes closed. My left quad began to have a small muscle spasm. She requested I join her for a round of deep breathing. I rushed through my breaths, concentrating too hard on the counting and the holding and the exhaling. While I was breathing, my cat startled me by jumping in my lap. She made biscuits on my arm, staring up at my face with her big saucer eyes, and I thought, I wish I felt the same way about myself that my cat does.

I glanced at my phone, since my eyes were already open and all. I had been meditating for approximately four minutes and 53 seconds.

I forced my eyes closed again and concentrated on petting my cat’s fur, hoping it would help me stay calm and attentive. I looked at my phone again. I heard the mail truck, that stopping and starting sound of the engine and brakes. The leaf blowing stopped. My cat jumped out of my lap. After what seemed like two hours, my eleven minutes of meditation were over. I have to tell you, it did nothing for my self-esteem.

Maybe tomorrow it will be easier, but I doubt it. I wonder if there is a guided meditation about meditation.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Just What I've Always Wanted

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? Yeah, me neither.

 I hate to sound ungrateful, but after a few trips around the sun, I have a pretty good sense of what I like, what I need, what I use, and what I appreciate. I do enjoy a surprise now and again, but at the same token, I am pretty expressive and have an inability to hide my feelings. My polite thank you is usually cancelled out by my face.

I come from a family of list-makers, and as such, we tend to make wish lists for birthday and holiday gifts. It makes life easier for everyone. You know if you get me something from the list, I will be happy, and you also know that you have not wasted your time and effort on something that may be returned or hidden somewhere until the appropriate amount of time passes before I can donate it to charity or regift it.

I realize the same handling applies to the gifts I give other people. I make a solid effort to think about what someone would like or use before I buy it because I want the recipient to be happy. I don’t give gifts out of obligation; I give them out of affection.

I’m really pretty easy to please because I like to be remembered. I also have a different set of expectations from close family members than for friends. And when it comes to my husband, well, I kind of wish he would just stick to the list.

This year, like most years, I wrote out my Christmas gift wish list. I didn’t have a ton of things I really wanted, which is great, because my husband and I decided not to buy each other presents. For the past few years, we have used Christmas as the occasion to take care of major things around the house. One year, it was a new light fixture for the foyer. Another, we redid most of the kitchen. Last year, we celebrated the birth of your savior with new garage doors.

For Christmas this year, we opted to replace our sectional sofa, but with the annual holiday break at the factory, we knew our gift would not be ready on time. We decided to get a few things to open to make the day feel special and set a budget limit that we both promptly ignored. I asked for a gift certificate for a massage, a better waffle iron that you flip and flip back like the ones in the 3-star hotel lobby breakfast bars, and Botox for my crow’s feet.

My husband asked for what he always asks for,nothing. I got him a cotton throw to match the new couch, a copy of his favorite holiday movie, and a new pair of ridiculously expensive sneakers to replace his worn-out ones that he still slaps around in after almost half a decade.

Cut to Christmas morning. The girls opened their gifts and enjoyed just about everything. My husband loved his blanket, was less than thrilled with the sneakers, and puzzled by the movie because he thought he already had it, which he did not, for the record. I loved my massage gift certificate. And then he had me open a huge wrapped box that sat lonely under the tree.

When I looked inside the shipping box, I had no idea what it was. I saw a manual with Japanese characters on it, and lots of packing material. There was also a large, round thing that looked pretty high tech.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked me.
“A Roomba?” I asked. I was really confused because I did not ask for a Roomba. I am not a stickler for a well-vacuumed house, and I doubted my ability to train my cat to ride it.
“Guess again!” He was so excited.
I looked a little closer and realized it had an almost oval shape, and a lid. “Is it a toilet seat?”
“Not just any toilet seat!” He could not contain himself.
“Is this one of those fancy Japanese toilet seats?” I asked.
“It’s a bidet! Remember when you said you wanted a bidet?”

Truth be told, I didn’t remember saying that, but clearly he did. He remembered it so well that it stuck in his mind for months until it was time to buy me something really special.

“Are you surprised? “He asked me.
“Incredibly,” I replied.

We finished opening all the gifts and went on to enjoy Christmas music and some fabulous cinnamon rolls. The toilet seat sat in its box, forgotten for the time being.

In the afternoon, I talked with my friend, MJS. We had that whole “what did you get” conversation. She told me about her haul, and then I told her about my toilet seat. MJS works with an assisted living community. She knew all about my toilet seat.

“We have lots of residents who have those installed before they move in,” she told me. “It’s great! All the residents should have them. When you get old, your accuracy starts to wane.”
“They miss the bowl?” I asked.
“Let me put it like this: it beats shit under your fingernails,” she replied.

A few days later, my husband offered to install it for me. “If you really like it, I can have an electrician come to the house to put a new outlet near the toilet.”
“This thing has to be plugged in?” I said.
“Well, it can’t very well run on batteries,” he said.

I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me it was electric. Perhaps it was because I didn’t know all that much about it.

“What does it do, anyway?” I asked. It was easier to have him tell me than to make the effort to read the manual myself.
“It does everything! It can heat up.”
“I don’t like a hot toilet seat. It disturbs me to know someone else sat there before me.”

“Well, it does other things too. It has a remote control and dual cleansing nozzles, for the front and the back.”
“At the same time? Dual action?”
“No, of course not. It also has a feminine hygiene setting.”
“I am supposed to douche with my toilet seat? Hand me that manual,” I said. “What is this? Pulsating action? Am I supposed to go the bathroom or get off on it?”
He grabbed the manual back. “It has a setting for kids too.”
“In case they have not yet been sexually abused by the toilet seat? To kind of loosen them up, break them in?”
He ignored that last comment. “It’s not a toilet seat. It’s a bidet. It can also air dry your holes.”
“Great. I always wanted someone to blow smoke up my ass. I guess this is the next best thing.”
“See? I told you you wanted one,” my husband said.

For now, the toilet seat is still in the box. My cats take turns sitting on and in the box every day. One of these days, we will get around to installing it and taking it for a test drive. I haven’t pushed the issue because it’s too damn complicated and also, to be honest, I am a little bit scared of it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Out of Courtesy

Have you seen the news coverage of the brawls at malls all across the country? We have come to expect a melee at Walmart on Black Friday, but out and out mob violence at the local shopping center on the day after Christmas seems to be yet another new low for the US. It wasn’t just a mall or two; 12 malls in different parts of the country had to shut down to stop the clashes.

This level of discord is a concrete sign of the disconnect we have in our politics, our lifestyles, our wealth, really any area in which we can differ. With all the talk we have had about hope and tolerance and acceptance and coexistence, all we have really seemed to unite about is being against one another.

At the core of our dissonance is what I consider to be one of the key issues: a lack of civility. We are no longer a civilized society. We used to at least pretend to be polite to one another. We might have occasionally let someone in front of us in traffic. We would try to find patience in line at the grocery store. Hell, we used to wait in line. Now, we have devolved from a community with a sense of belonging to isolated beings with no regard for our fellow humans.

About a month ago, my daughter, E, stood at the crosswalk by her high school. There is a school crossing sign on the side of the road but no crossing guard to help older students safely walk from one side to the other. When E stepped into the road and walked, one car didn’t stop until it was mere inches from hitting her. She crossed the street in a clearly marked space during school hours when drivers should slow down and certainly stop for pedestrians, but that’s also a thing we don’t do anymore. So she was almost hit by the car.

The driver, who had to slam on her brakes, was also a high school student, a sophomore with a learning permit. Her mother was in the passenger seat next to her, ostensibly to offer guidance. The student put down her window and yelled at E.
 
This is what she said, with her mother next to her: What the fuck are you doing?

My daughter stood in the road, still shaking from her near miss. E didn’t respond verbally, but she did give the girl the finger. I have talked to E about flipping people off. It is one of those gestures that just makes people flip their shit. There is no turning back from the finger. She didn’t defiantly raise her hand in the air. She kept it discreetly by her side, where you would have to look closely to see it was an obscene gesture and not a nervous tic. The mother saw my daughter’s middle finger for what it was.
 
She leaned across the car and yelled this: Don’t you ever do that to my daughter again or I will fucking rape you in the ass.

My daughter told me this story when she got home from school that afternoon. E was still upset, not so much that she was almost hit by a car because that is an almost daily occurrence. She could not believe a mother, seated next to her own daughter, would yell such a vile thing to another female child. It was so shocking to both of us. I didn’t even know what to tell her, other than to stop flipping off people. Short of taking out her phone to record the incident or to snap a photo of the license plate, she really didn’t have any options.

We spent a week or so saying it to each other, to take some of the power out of the words. Do the laundry or I’ll fucking rape you in the ass. Pack your lunch or I’ll fucking rape you in the ass. Make your bed or I’ll…you get the idea. Humor, however inappropriate, took away a bit of the sting.

Here’s my point. If we are a society where women are comfortable threatening children with anal rape for crossing the street at a crosswalk in a school zone, then we are most definitely a society that will fight over a half-price hoodie at the mall. We will say whatever we want to strangers on the Internet. We will get ours before they get theirs. We believe we are entitled, more so than the other people may think that they are the entitled ones. It turns our that we are all wrong.

We may not like the outcome of the presidential election. We may not think life is fair. We may not worship the same, or any, god. We may believe respect is earned and not demanded. Can’t we at least agree to the golden rule? Can we not treat others as we would like to be treated? Can we not make an effort to find the common ground or at least follow some semblance of orderly politeness?

I, for one, make an effort in little ways. I observe yield signs and red lights.  I wait my turn for service at restaurants and in stores. I teach my children to be kind, not judgmental. It sure would be swell if some more of us could try a little kindness and a little less complaining. A touch of civility could be the secret to making our society better. It certainly couldn’t hurt, and it won’t cost any of us a thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Soup's On!

Are you enjoying this holiday season, or are you feeling the stress? If you are having a week like mine, you are probably doing a bit of both. Like many of my mixed-up friends, my family celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas. This year the lunar and Gregorian calendar collide, and the first night of Chanukah shares the spotlight with Christmas Eve. For those of us who overdo, it’s a level of excess unlike any we’ve seen in recent years.

I’m hosting my older sister and nephews this season and decided to make a nice Jewish dinner on Christmas Eve. I made two kinds of rugelach a few days ago rather than attempting homemade jelly donuts, also known as the difficult to pronounce sufganiyot. I even made my own applesauce to go with the potato latkes that will grace my table.

All we really want to eat is latkes. They are crisp and greasy and salty and truly delightful. They also sit in your gut, daring you to digest them, while you wonder why we celebrate a minor Jewish holiday by eating the equivalent of a Waffle House side dish. We have to have something else to balance out those potato pancakes, and I thought matzoh ball soup and a salad might help move things along.

I like to make my own stock. I don’t do anything unusual. I am not browning fatty backs and wings to bring out the flavor. I do not roast my onions and carrots to a delicious caramel before adding them. I just kick it old school with my chicken, veggies, seasonings, and water and let the whole pot simmer away on the stove.

With all the extra food in the house for the double holiday, I didn’t have room in my refrigerator for a big stock pot. I do have an extra fridge in the garage that is usually stocked with beer and old sodas that no one wants to drink. When we have company or holiday meals, our food overflow goes in the outside fridge. I had my husband rearrange his odd assortment of beer to make room for my stock pot and, interestingly enough, a honey baked ham that I plan to serve alongside the turkey breast for Christmas dinner. We don’t keep kosher, but we are also not big ham fans. Chances are good that thing is going to see the trash can Christmas night, minus a slice or two.

After the stock finished cooking, I let it cool for a little while before removing the chicken and pouring the broth through a strainer to remove the tired, old veggies that gave their all to the cause. With the stock safely transferred to another pot, it was ready to go in the outside fridge. I carefully lifted the pot of hot chicken stock and carried it towards the garage door. My daughter, S, held the door for me and scurried down the short flight of brick stairs to open the fridge door.

I took a step or two, and my heel caught on the third step.

Have you ever noticed that when you fall, you feel like it happens in slow motion? I lost my balance and fell back oh so slowly, trying to figure out a way to break my fall without spilling the stock on my daughter or myself. Make no mistake, that broth was simmering away mere minutes before. It was still plenty hot and ready to do some damage.

I fell down, landing hard on my butt and scraping my calf on the brick steps. I would like to say I didn’t spill a drop of soup, but I did. I spilled three drops. S was terrified, but honestly, other than the scratch on my leg, I was fine. I saved myself and the broth.

I perfected the art of falling with food when I was nine. A friend of mine had invited me to join her family on their boat, and we stopped at a sandy spot along a creek to play on rafts and have lunch. Her father grilled hot dogs for everyone, and I got it in my head that I wanted to eat mine in the small inflatable boat they had tied to the pontoon. It was moving gently with the current, and when I turned around to plop down in the middle, I fell, missing the little boat entirely. I landed hard in the water, in over my head. Somehow, I managed to save my hot dog, my right hand clutching it high in the air above the water’s surface.

That’s how I felt, holding that pot of hot broth. I was triumphant over tragedy, saving the soup, dodging what could have been not only an unfortunate loss of homemade stock, but also narrowly avoiding a severe burn a few days before Christmas Eve. It was a Christmas and Chanukah miracle, all wrapped into one clumsy fall.

Enjoy whatever holiday you want, however you choose to celebrate it. Maybe yours will cross over like mine, with a pot of matzoh ball soup right next to the honey baked ham in the fridge.