My Endless Love

I am in love. 6′ tall, dark, handsome, strong, supportive, full of wisdom and humor and interesting things that I could spend hours just absorbing with all the fibers of my being… on my couch, in my bed, even on the kitchen table.

Here’s a picture.

Isn't he dreamy?

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

I kind of love all my furniture except the stuff in my spare bedroom that I bought for $700 when I graduated from college 12 years ago. I don’t have much: a couch, a loveseat, a coffee table, an end table, a kitchen table and four chairs, a pine wood standing cabinet that I currently use to hold kitchen stuff but could use in another place for towels or tchotchkes or other accoutrements, and the bedroom set that I bought when I moved here last year. I really, really like it all, and I’m still sort of proud that I bought it all myself. But my bookshelf has a special place in my heart.

I bought it at an unfinished wood store the year the Cardinals played the Red Sox in the World Series. It’s oak, so the shelves wouldn’t bow under the weight of books, or in humidity. Jack let me use him and his SUV to pick it up and get it home. My brother-in-law told me how to stain it myself and said I could either use polyurethane or tung oil to finish it. I sanded it by hand, wiped it down with tack cloth, and brushed on a coat of dark chocolate stain (while watching the World Series, and, at one point, talking on the phone to a guy who wanted me to come work for him). Then I let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied another coat of stain. Let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied the first coat of tung oil (because it penetrates and conditions the wood and leaves a less obtrusive sheen, and won’t chip like polyurethane can… I learned). I forget how many coats of tung oil went into that bookshelf. I stayed up late to work on it. I remember worrying about the rain outside warping the wood as it stood in front of the sliding door, or keeping the stain from drying. In fact, there are two places where some of the stain wiped away because it wasn’t quite dry enough before I started the next round of work, and another place where the stain dripped and then dried that way, refusing to be rubbed away with sandpaper.

It has character. It has a story. I did it myself.

And then I filled it with books.

I love books. I’m not a bibliophile in the strictest terms; I won’t read just anything and I don’t limit my reading to super-high brow stuff. But I hate to throw books away or give them away or sell them. I hate to loan them out and never get them back. I write my first initial and last name on the first page of every book I own when I loan it out, so the borrower knows to whom it belongs.

I want it back. I don’t care how bad a book it is.

I don’t want my bookshelf to be too cluttered and full, so I worry that I’ll need another one soon, but don’t have a place to put another one. I like that I’ve left spaces for bric-a-brac, photos in frames (which look much better when I haven’t turned them around so you can’t see who’s in them), clay vases hand-thrown by a ruggedly handsome, ruffly-haired man I met one fall at an art festival with my friends, and my grandmother’s Hummel that she made sure would come to me when she died because it reminded her of me.  I like that it has this clock in the middle of the middle shelf…

Twice a day...

…. even though the clock is broken and will never tell time again except twice a day. I like that the clock sits on top of a book my ex-boyfriend edited, because it’s the one thing I will always respect about him even though he’s a total jerkface.  I like that this book stands up in the back of the second shelf…

… because one Christmas I found it and bought four copies and wrote inscriptions on the front page for each of my three sisters and wrapped them for Christmas morning so we would each have a copy in our homes.

Books can bond people together with their wisdom and commonality.

I like that I’ve put the “crappy,” pulp fiction, super-bourgeois stuff on the bottom two shelves so I can put the more impressive stuff above it. It may be pretentious, but it’s my way of prioritizing, so that someday, when I absolutely have to get rid of some books (ack), I’ll know which shelves to pick from.

At Christmas, I put my Dickens Village houses on top of the bookshelf, set on a fluffy layer of fake snow, with white-limbed fake trees (regular and pine) and O-mouthed choristers and Little Charlie Dickens on his mother’s lap on a park bench, and Tiny Tim on Bob Cratchett’s shoulder while Bob drags the family’s tree behind them and a dog runs alongside. With gaslight lamps that really light up (but aren’t really gas) dotting the path.

That bookshelf holds the fantasies that I’ve cradled in my hands, curled up with a glass of wine or immersed in a warm bath, escaping. It holds my getaways, my fascinations. It holds the things I read in middle school (To Kill A Mockingbird), in high school (The Great Gatsby, The Catcher In the Rye - which my little sister borrowed five years ago when she had to read it for high school, and which came back to me dog-eared), in college (Life With A Star, A Lesson Before Dying, Tuesdays With Morrie - which came out my junior year and was required reading for a unique seminar class I took as a senior with the assistant dean of academic affairs, who died of a heart attack in his mid-50s, a few years after graduation). It holds the classics I should have read all the way through sometime in between, but didn’t until after I was finished school (The Bell Jar, In Cold Blood, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet). All these books from my school days that left such impressions on me that I wanted to keep them. It holds biographies and histories, vampire stories and love stories, tragedies and celebrations.

It tells my story.

Every year, when the weather turns cooler, I look forward to curling up with a blanket and a new book. When the weather is warm, I look forward to toting one in my bag to the beach, or sitting with it out on the balcony with a drink. Some nights, I can’t wait to get home and sink into a tub of soothing warmth or a cushion of pillows with a book to erase the day.

And every morning when I wake up, every night when I come home, my bookshelf is there against the wall to remind me of my story.

I am in love. Forever.

(This may or may not be why I’m unmarried.)

(Huh.)

(Anyway.) I am going to begin keeping a list of books on the shelf. It’s at the top of my blog, next to “All the cells.” Every time I finish a book, I’ll add it to the list. If you keep a list, let me know; I’ll check yours when I’m looking for my next affair, my next commitment to a larger romance.

*******

My blog friend k8edid was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I love her stuff and I so appreciate that she likes mine enough to honor my writing that way. My mission: tell my readers seven things they don’t know about me, and list more bloggers for them to read. (Technically, what you’re supposed to do is name a list of Versatile Bloggers, but I’m pretty literal and I prefer the less restrictive approach of simply naming a few I’ve discovered and enjoyed since the last time I provided a list.)

Here goes:

Seven Things

1. I had a birthmark on the inside of my leg that ran from just below my knee all the way up. When I was two, my mother tried to scrub it off because she thought it was dirt. But now it’s so faded I’m not even sure it’s there anymore.

Stop thinking about where it was. Geez.

2. I have 20/500 vision without contact lenses or glasses. AKA totally sucky.

3. I learned to read when I was four, and still remember a big yellow paperback book full of stories that had an illustration of Superman on the back page. There was also a hardback book called Star Bright that was full of short stories in black print with font like the one I use in my blog. The short story I remember best from that book was called “Lemonade Rain.” There was an illustration in it of a girl who looked like Sister 1, sticking her tongue out to catch the drops.

4. When I was in second grade, one of my classmates accidentally tripped me on the blacktopped schoolyard and I chipped my front tooth and cut my face just under my nose, so I have a scar that looks like my nose is running and 1/3 of my left front tooth is fake.

5. My favorite subjects in elementary and high school were always English and history. No matter what year.

6. I am half German and half Irish. Or half Irish and half German, depending on which parent reads my description.

7. When I was in middle school, every teacher I had thought I would become a writer. I sort of did… but  not a novelist, like they thought.

And now: Blogs You Should Read (Besides the Ones On My Lovely Blog Roll)

k8edid – A nurse with a heart of gold and a silver tongue.

Prettyfeetpoptoe – I just discovered her, but I think if you like me, you’ll like her. Also she’s British, which is always a bonus. I love me some witty Brits.

Ginger – a single mom fighting fibromyalgia and a wicked case of Decorator’s Bug.

Jamieonline – he’s just such a sweetheart, and he has such enthusiasm and zest for life.

The Bloggess – she’s got a gazillion readers and she doesn’t need you, but if you want to laugh out loud, read her anyway.

Happy reading, all.

9-22 debate

Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Some Dogs and a New Guy

Apparently, a lot of debate viewers have dogs who did not respond well to Fox News’s last debate’s  “Time’s Up” bell.

As the latest debate got underway last night on Fox News Channel, paper doll host Bret Baier explained that they would use a new indication that a candidate had talked too long. He said the network got a lot of feedback from dog owners saying the last one (the Texaco full service ding) confused their dogs into thinking someone was at the front door.

All about the ding.

I’m pretty sure he was serious.

This time, they used that sound your Facebook page makes when you get a new instant message. Bret says they got the sound from Google, which co-sponsored the debate and contributed a lot of either confusing, pointless or largely unqualified survey stats to the evening, along with some citizens’ questions submitted via YouTube.

Before I really get going, let me say this: I always feel bad if I don’t assess every element of the debate, because I don’t want to leave out something that someone might have found important. But if I do every element, I’ll be here all day. So I hope you’ll forgive me if I hit some significant observations and don’t necessarily give you a complete blow-by-blow. I will, however, give you full coverage of the topics I present. I will tell you what each candidate who responded to the topic had to say. If someone is not mentioned in a topic, it’s because he or she did not address it.

Let’s begin.

Uh-buh-dee-buh-dee-buh-dee... get some drills in, Gov.

Gov. Rick Perry needs practice. For a front-runner, he’s just struggling in debates to make  his points smoothly. He spent the first half stilted and stuttering. It’s a shame for him, because if he could have delivered the lines better, they would probably have had more impact. But when you can’t even remember what month the newly-elected president gets to move into the White House, you’re not off to a great start.

He did enumerate a couple of ways he wanted to get small businesses to hire: lower the tax burden on them and institute sweeping tax reform that somehow adds up to not allowing frivolous lawsuits against doctors. I think, if he’d been able to say it right, he would have wanted to say that the health care industry is a major employer, both in small and large scale models, which he knows from his time as governor of a big state. And he wants to keep health care workers from fearing lawsuits, because fear of lawsuits (and needing funds to fight those that are inevitable) hinders hiring.

Is there anybody else in the hunt? Probably not.

The first zinger of the night, I think, was directed not at a candidate on the stage, but at President Obama. It came when Mitt Romney said, “To create jobs, it helps to have had a job. And I have.” He spent a little time last night reminding people that he’d spent his whole life in the private sector. He told everyone he had only spent four years as governor of Massachusetts and that was the extent of his political office.

Sooo… you just told everyone that you couldn’t get re-elected and you basically have a very limited amount of political leadership experience.

Interesting approach.

I get the “outside the beltway” thing, but sometimes I think it’s dangerous to tell people you barely know how to govern anything. It was the biggest threat to President Obama’s candidacy in the last election, but somehow it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican.

Romney says America’s economy depends on being more attractive to businesses by cutting corporate tax rates and making sure business and government are allies instead of opponents. He took a broad approach for a minute in explaining that the country needs a trade policy that favors the US rather than the other nations, and he briefly emphasized a need for energy security (which is my favorite “surprise” element of job creation and economic issues because we’re still not used to hearing it even though it’s true).

Then he stepped outside the lines of business a bit and said that the middle class is the part of America hurt most by Obama’s economic policies, so he would cut taxes for the middle class.

I find this to be an easy pitch to swing at, frankly. Of course the middle class is the most hurt; it always is. The rich (and by “rich” I personally am talking about people whose income is at about a million or more per year) are almost never really hurt, and the poor are so poor that nothing pulls them out of it; nobody talks about how to lift the poor out of poverty. I guess maybe poor people don’t vote. It’s hard to care who runs the place when you can’t feed your kids.

If we follow what seems to be the Tea Party theme, the way to get rich is to work your ass off without any help from anyone or any agency, and the way to stay rich is to pay fewer taxes. So Megyn Kelly asked Rep. Michele Bachmann: “Out of every dollar I own, how much do you think that I should deserve to keep?”

"Keep it all! Wait..."

Bachmann said you earned every dollar, and you should get to keep every dollar.

I was about to ask the television if that meant no taxes for anybody ever when she remembered that sometimes a populist approach is transparent bull puckey. “Obviously we have to give money back to the government, but we have to have a completely different mindset, and that mindset is the American people are the geniuses of the economy. It’s certainly not the government. Private solutions in the private sector give certainty, and that will drive the economy.”

At first I wasn’t sure I knew what she meant. Then I thought she must have missed all of 2008 and 2009, because I’m pretty sure we let the private sector try to come up with private solutions for decades and what they came up with was, “Our big bosses are really rich and we’ve gone bankrupt. Save us. After years of no one telling us to stop eating so much, we’ve grown too big to be able to wipe ourselves.” I don’t really know why business-focused, regulation-hating candidates don’t remember that.

Unions, gay people and educators: Talk to the hand.

Rick Santorum got a YouTube question about whether he would support a federal right to work law allowing workers to choose whether or not to join a union. His response was limited to public employees, which he says is the fastest-growing segment of union workers and the segment that is costing the country the most money. In short, he doesn’t believe that any of them should be unionized and he doesn’t want any of them to get negotiated wages and benefits.

I guess nobody is going to work for his administration, and he’ll clean his own office.

Herman Cain got to talk more about his 9-9-9 tax plan: eliminating the entire federal tax code and changing it to a simple 9% on companies, income and national sales. He was asked if that meant that, down the line, Americans could see hikes in all three of those categories. He said no, but never explained why not.

As the debate drifted away from jobs and budgets, Ron Paul got to make his first splash when someone asked how he would restore the 10th amendment (which theoretically limits federal government control over states) and allow states to govern themselves. His answer: the president would have to veto every bill that violates states’ rights.

"What? I was done."

That was his entire answer. He still had about 27 seconds left. Which was sort of refreshing. When the questioners told him that, he took the opportunity to talk about needing to bring health care and education back to state levels of government. Make no mistake: Ron Paul is not a Republican. He is a Libertarian. The RINO thing is just his best shot at a national spotlight. He’s an idea guy and although he seems jazzed by his relatively good performance in national polls, he knows he’s never going to get the party nod.

Then the questions turned to Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico.

Wait, who?

Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico is running for president. FYI.

Johnson has been in the race a while, but very quietly. It turned out there’s a reason for that, besides a lack of funding: He’s a one-note campaigner. He promises to submit a balanced budget proposal to Congress in 2013, which means a 43% cut in spending across the board, in every department. But it took him a little while to say it, so the Time’s Up ding rang out.

Or was that just someone Googling Gary Johnson?

I’d like to see his budget. I’m curious as to what happens to the highway I drive on every day and the banana I have for breakfast that may or may not be coated with poison.

That’s not all the guy said, so I’ll be fair and also tell you that he wants to get rid of the federal tax code and institute a flat sales tax to take care of everything. And that is really all he has on his platform. But his best line came far later in the debate. “My neighbors’ two dogs have created more shovel-ready programs than this administration.” The entire audience roared. That’s the line that will make people remember him. Expect to hear it going forward.

Time to discuss social security, and I got to learn something. Perry talked about the ability of certain state employees and retirees to opt out of Social Security and only get their retirement benefits from the state.  I don’t know how it would work – I’m not sure what the plan for payment would be, but Perry favors it.

This is where Mitt Romney’s moderation shows, and I think it’s to his benefit in the nomination fight. He basically insisted that’s a dumb idea to leave retirement funding to states, and that Social Security is the responsibility of the federal government and it needs to be fixed and the American people need to know that the president is committed to making it work. Romney, apparently, remembers that FDR instituted the program as a federal gig.

"First, you go to Chile..."

Herman Cain didn’t get this question, but he circled back to it later and insisted that the US adopt the Chilean model of retirement funding. He’s big on this. But since nobody knows what it is, and also it relates to a South American country and that just makes people uncomfortable, it’s a hard sell. Chileans use a personal retirement account and, according to Cain, 30 other countries have modeled their programs after it, and it’s successful. He’s going to keep pushing this. I’d look for some feature articles on it as the campaign goes along, because Cain did well in this debate and I think he might be around for a little while.

And then there was a bunch of silliness about books. It was like Perry and Romney were slapping each other over whose book was better. They used each others’ publications as battering rams: “You said this in your book.” “Well you said that in your book.” It seemed like a strange distraction, but in reality it was a way for two governors without Congressional voting records to push each other about their stances on various issues. I’d say the most successful jab (or the one that would have been most successful if Perry could speak without tripping over himself) was when Perry pointed out that Romney’s hardback book said Romney believed the whole country could benefit from Massachusetts’ established “Romneycare,” but the paperback edition did not show that sentence. Romney didn’t do much to dispute the point other than to say he never really said that. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the assertion was more nuanced than Perry would have us believe.

"Anything your book says, my book says better."

By now you may have noticed I’m not talking much about anybody other than Perry and Romney. That’s because nobody really is. In a USA Today/Gallup poll last week, Perry pulled a 31%, while Romney took 24% (that’s a smaller distance from first to second than the previous polling). Rep. Ron Paul garnered 13%. And believe it or not, Rep. Bachmann, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were all tied at 5%. Five percent. Michele Bachmann fell off a cliff when Perry got into the race, and I still haven’t quite figured out why, but it’s possible that her freefall could leave the door open for Sarah Palin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Palin has been watching for it to happen – the old Early Flame-Out. With Bachmann fading, and time ticking away, Palin might decide to get in on the double-dutch jump just when she can peak at the right time.

"Atta boy, Jonny."

But that doesn’t mean the other candidates aren’t worth listening to, because they bring ideas to the table that the frontrunners don’t articulate. Take, for example, Jon Huntsman. I was surprised to hear him flatly declare that he would not raise taxes. Period. And then he started quoting Ronald Reagan. (It always gets around to that, but he’s not the guy I thought would do it, so this tells me he’s trying harder to look like a Republican and shed the image of having worked for Obama as ambassador to China.) But if you hung through the easy lobs, you got to hear him say we can’t fix anything in this country until we fix the economy, and we can’t fix the economy without fixing its underlying structural problems. For him, that means phasing out loopholes and deductions, and creating an 8-14-23% personal tax rate. He wants to take corporate tax from 35% to 25% to encourage business growth, but he would eliminate corporate subsidies because the country can’t afford them. When questioned about his stated willingness to subsidize alternative energy sources, he deftly explained that he would be in favor of initial short-term subsidies with a rapid phase-out plan because we need a bridge between our current energy sources (coal, oil) and the sources of the future (wind, solar)… like natural gas.

Then the moderators brought out the Haterade and it was time to talk about which departments in the federal government they hated most. Herman Cain actually got the first question, which was “if you were forced to eliminate one department, which one would it be, and why?” I don’t really know why he grinned, but he said if he was forced (and I thought his emphasis suggested that he wouldn’t necessarily want to get rid of any of them), it would likely be the EPA, which he says has gotten out of control with its regulations. He cited a plan for the agency to regulate dust.

One look at my home right now tells me I’m in trouble with the EPA.

And then we moved on to hating the department of education. Almost all the candidates say they want to get rid of it and give full control of education to states and localities. This gave Rick Santorum a chance to get back on his family-focused horse and give out some hard numbers at the same time: 20 years ago, the federal funding contribution for education to the states was 3%. Now it’s 11% and education is worse. He says it doesn’t serve the customer (using a business approach here), and that the customer is the parents, who have the real responsibility for educating children.

I see his point, but I think the “customer” is the child, and there are so many parents who fall down on the job at home that the schools had to step in. If we give all that control back to parents, we’re in for a world of hurt. Which is why I was glad to hear Jon Huntsman say that the federal input on education is all about the nation’s competitiveness. I got a little excited, because I happen to agree, and here’s a guy who was ambassador to freaking China who’s about to explain why.

Except he didn’t.

Instead he pushed for localizing education, but never said he’d eliminate the federal department. And he emphasized the need for kids to learn critical reading and writing skills by the age of six.

Gingrich, Perry and Paul advocated school choice at the very least, and something akin to a voucher program that lets parents decide where to send their kids instead of automatically plugging them into the public school in their district.  But Paul wants to go so far as to give tax credits to people who opt out of public schools. Gingrich wants something like a Pell Grant system for grades K-12 so parents can pay for their kids’ education at schools where tuition is charged. And Romney made what I thought was a pretty impactful point: “all the talk about classroom size is promoted by teachers’ unions so they can hire more teachers.” Wow. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s a big jab that allowed Romney to say he would stand firm against teachers’ unions. When Rick Perry pushed the point that Romney “favors” the current Race To the Top federal plan, Romney explained that he thinks Education Secretary Arne Duncan is right to believe that teachers should be evaluated and thrown out if they’re not performing well, and he believes kids should be tested to make sure they’re meeting educational standards. Once again, Romney’s moderation comes through, though he does favor school choice.

On the topic of illegal immigration: Rep. Bachmann wants to build a fence on every inch of border with Mexico. It’s a popular response for the Tea Party and others, but when the governor of Texas says there’s no way in hell it’s going to be practical, I think you have to listen; his state has 1200 miles of border with Mexico. The problem with him is that his record on preventing illegal immigration is suspect and Romney tried to hit him on that a little in this debate. He pounded Perry on in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, who themselves never became legalized. He pointed out that four years of in-state tuition at University of Texas equals $100,000 in discounts to illegal immigrants, and that’s a magnet that doesn’t make sense. It was a good blow, but Perry stopped stuttering when he explained that he still thinks it’s more important to educate people so they don’t become drags on society. Which is a fair point until Rick Santorum emphatically opines that nobody said they couldn’t go to college at all– but why subsidize it and give illegals a reason to come to Texas? It might have been Santorum’s finest moment.

"Do you unnastand the wuhds that ah comin' outta my mouf?"

Gingrich believes nobody should get that in-state benefit. He also firmly believes English should be the official language, favors a fence and points out that the visa system makes it too difficult for foreign nationals to visit the US, and the immigration laws make illegal entry too easy.

Ron Paul wants to eliminate birthright citizenship so parents aren’t motivated to come to the US to deliver their babies. The moderator asked him about his assertion in the last debate that a fence might eventually be used to keep Americans in. This was really the only point in the night where Paul went to the zoo a little bit. He tried to make the point that Americans do sometimes want to leave the country with their money. (I’m pretty sure they don’t go to Mexico, unless it’s for vacation.) But he did land a decent point when he said that a data bank keeping track of citizenship would keep track of everyone, not just illegals, and that amounts to a national ID system that infringes on personal liberties.

At this point in the debate, the natives started getting a little restless and the interruptions began, particularly when it came to discussion on the Middle East. With the Palestinian Authority in the news for formally requesting recognition from the UN, the GOP has its claws out. Romney took the most emphatic stance that there should not be one inch of space between the US and its allies (in this case, Israel), and that no one should apologize for that. If you have a problem with your ally, discuss it privately, but support them staunchly in public. Although he didn’t mention the late president, this is a very Reaganesque attitude, and it was clearly a shot at the Obama administration.

Herman Cain insisted that the “peace through strength” philosophy Reagan espoused needed one element added at the moment: clarity. He says the Obama administration has sent mixed signals on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. (For the record, President Obama told the UN this week that the only way peace can be achieved in the Middle East is for Israel and the Palestinians to find it between themselves, and he does not think the PA should be recognized by the UN.)

Rick Perry got a question about Pakistan and the hypothetical that it may lose control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban. He believes he would first build a relationship with Pakistan that’s stronger than the current one. He had a little trouble articulating it, but I suspect it’s because he was trying to show he has somewhat of a handle on foreign policy issues and his head was moving faster than his mouth. He brought up a specific terror network in Pakistan called Haqqani (I Googled it; it’s closely allied with the Taliban) and said India needs to know for certain that the US is its ally. He believes we don’t have strong enough allies in the region to help us if the nuke situation became a reality.

You can't call him expressionless.

Then there was some acrimonious disagreement between Rick Santorum (who, frankly, is very pouty and angry and has no poker face whatsoever) and Jon Huntsman over military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Santorum says he does not favor taking troops out of Iraq; he’d rather heed the generals’ call for 20-30,000 troops to keep force protection, and he believes the US needs to stand by its reasons for being there. Huntsman went in (unasked) for the throat when he differed, saying he’s the only person on stage with foreign policy experience, but he wound up sort of foundering on his point. He drew a line back to the economy saying that America can’t fix other countries’ problems without fixing its own economy, and that the only people who can really save Iraq are the Iraqis, and the only people who can really save Afghanistan are the Afghans. It was a bizarrely isolationist point I’d more expect from Ron Paul, and Santorum shot back with what I think was another really good punch for him on the night:  “Just because our economy is sick doesn’t mean our country is sick or our values are sick. And we are going to stand up for our country.”

But then he got a question, asked by a gay service member via YouTube, about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which was officially eliminated from policy this week). Santorum insisted that if he were president, he’d put DADT back into effect. He believes repealing it injects a social program into the military and that we can’t conduct social experiments on the military. I find this to be sort of idiotic. It’s not like the military has been the first line in the introduction of gay rights issues for the country. In fact, it’s pretty much the last line. “Any type of sexual activity has no place in the military, and the fact that we’re making a point to recognize them and give them a special privilege in the form of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell injects a social program into the military,” Santorum emphatically pronounced. To me, that’s incredibly ignorant and shows that Santorum doesn’t understand that sex has a place everywhere in human sociology and that it’s not a “special privilege” to try to keep people from being beaten or discharged because of who they love.

I really wish some conservatives would begin to understand that homosexuality isn’t just about sex.

Speaking of sex, let’s revisit Rep. Bachmann’s HPV vaccine argument, shall we? After the last debate, Bachmann says a distraught mother told her that her daughter developed mental retardation after getting the vaccine. The American Association of Pediatrics shot back immediately, telling the world that there is zero evidence of this, and that the vaccine has an excellent safety record. The moderators asked Bachmann if she stands by her statements on the matter. Bachmann’s response was curious. She said she never actually made that claim.

“I only related what her story was,” she said. It was jaw-dropping.

"Hey, I was just telling you what she told me."

Again, Bachmann shows she’s bad at walking missteps back. But she recovered when she argued that the real issue is that it’s not appropriate for a governor (Rick Perry) to decide that a child should get a shot to prevent an STD, and she pointed out that he took money from the drug company that makes the vaccine… a company that hired Perry’s former Chief of Staff to lobby on their behalf.

Perhaps Perry’s most powerful moment of the night came next. “I did get lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old woman who had stage four cervical cancer.”

Everybody got quiet.

“I’ve readily admitted we should have had an opt-in, but I don’t know what part of ‘opt-out’ most parents don’t get. I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

As I’ve said, there were other topics discussed in the debate that I did not go into here. You can find a transcript here. In general, Rick Santorum had some strong moments in this debate, but his stance on DADT doesn’t keep with what most Americans think at this point, and he’s still just pissed off at everybody all the time. Michele Bachmann did nothing to gain points. Ron Paul played it less crazy, I think because he’s moving up in the polls, and that might have done him a favor or two, but he also didn’t get to pontificate on his signature issues. Herman Cain had a good night, and the audience learned about his recovery from stage 4 colon and liver cancer, which earned him a well-deserved and respectful ovation. Huntsman missed some opportunities and Gingrich didn’t do much at all. Johnson basically confused everyone with his presence and didn’t say anything other than “I promise to present a balanced budget to Congress in 2013.” Rick Perry got in his own way more than any one else did, but I think all these debates are bearing out the notion that Mitt Romney is the most poised and gives the most solid responses to questions.

From now on, Perry and Romney are the only people in the room.

cage free eggs

Free the Eggs!

(First, a brief note.)

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted about calling in sick? My guilty conscience is getting guiltier. I’m starting to think I’ve been busted by my co-workers, and they’re just not telling me. They’ve been quiet lately and one of them made a joke the other night when I said I couldn’t come hang out with them for an event because I’d be working. “Call out sick,” she said, laughing. But I kind of feel like it was a jab. And then, before I went to bed last night, I checked my site stats and found that the only post that had been read since midnight was the one about calling in sick. And there had been no keyword searches that led the reader to it.

I’m convinced my co-workers have figured out that I have a blog, and now they know I lied.

I had a hard time sleeping.

So, if you’re one of my co-workers and I’m right, please just tell me. I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t take this.

(And if you’re not one of my co-workers and you just try to mess with my head, I will hunt you down and seek vengeance for what you put me through. Just sayin’.)

********

(Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…)

I went to Starbucks today to grab a sandwich at 4pm because I hadn’t eaten anything yet and the intensifying nausea in my gut was threatening to overcome me. (I get nauseous when I’m really hungry sometimes. It’s weird.) I sat down at a table to eat my natural* turkey and Swiss cheese on whole grain bread so I wouldn’t pass out on my way to the door. Opening the little eco-conscious container, I found a packet of Hellmann’s light mayonnaise with a curious bit of art on it.

“Made with cage free eggs,” it said.

Really?

Free-range mayo?

This is necessary?

We have to admit that all this eco-consciousness that sprang out of the Oughts (2000 through 2009) has gone a little too far. I mean I get not wanting your kid to gnaw on a lead-painted crib (though I did, and look how well I turned out), and I get wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but free-range mayo?

Frankly, if Hellmann’s hadn’t drawn my attention to it, I might never have realized that eggs could roam about on their own if only they were liberated from their cages.

Ethical happiness in a cup

I glopped my light, cage-free-egg-containing mayo onto my whole grain bread and chewed on a thought: While it was building its brand, Starbucks also built a reputation of being environmentally conscious. Coffee shops had always been bastions of beatnik music and customers so concerned about the world’s water supply that they often skipped showers in order to conserve, but Starbucks led a worldwide corporate charge to be both ubiquitous and minimally wasteful. And that’s admirable. This particular Starbucks lives in an old, converted warehouse. No new construction, made of existing materials. It’s got exposed brick walls and an old slate floor and charming decor that was once a grain storage bin and shaft. All the wood beams high above customers’ heads are raw and rustic. The industrial hanging lights feature energy-efficient bulbs. Starbucks may have been the first massive company to prove that going green doesn’t mean losing dough.

Of course, its overpriced coffee and $5.75 natural* turkey and Swiss cheese on whole grain

Outstretched hands of coffee-love

bread sandwiches helped with that.

Its coffee beans are all acquired through free trade with farmers. It sells give-clean-water-to-famished-children Ethos water, and since you can’t possibly be against giving clean water to famished children, you don’t grouse about the price of it. Almost all its food packaging is environmentally friendly. The little tray in which my sandwich came was imprinted with the words “compostable materials.”

 

It makes you feel good to be a Starbucks customer. Being a Starbucks customer helps counteract the fact that you’re an impulse-driven, spoiled, suburban or semi-suburban, caffeine-riddled SUV owner with disposable income.

But when we start getting into free-range mayo, it’s time to pump the brakes.

I don’t need my mayonnaise to be made from the eggs of free-range hens. Any old egg will do. It’s just mayonnaise. And besides, the eggs were snatched from the warmth of their mothers’ underbellies and deprived of their chance to maximize their potential as poultry, and now we’re eating them. So this Che Guevara-cum-John Lennon, I Am the Egg Man micro-activism doesn’t serve much purpose. I’m sure the pro-cage free egg people would argue that small amounts add up to a large amount and it’s cruel to keep hens in cages and force-feed them inappropriate diets, and I can understand that, but… we’re talking about a condiment, here.

Do we really take our condiments this seriously?

With my stomach settled and my body pleasantly surprised by such health-contributing fare, I headed out to finish my errands. My head full of green thoughts, I looked around for where I should throw my compostable food packaging. And you know what I realized?

There are zero recycling bins in Starbucks. Whoa.

What a slap in the face for those hens.

"Wwwhhhhaaaaat?!"

*minimally processed, contains no preservatives

two elephant seals

Dear Discovery Channel: I Am So Disappointed In You

Sunday night, Jack and I were hangin’ in the hizzie all late-night. We like to do this: I go there after work and make him stay up until well past the normal person’s bedtime (he usually naps first), and we watch TV. Sometimes good TV, sometimes bad TV. Sports of some kind. The occasional movie. Whatever floats his boat, as he has the clicker and I don’t really care (even when he’s at my place I give him the clicker; I don’t mind man-handling of the remote). Though sometimes I do catch sight of something on the cable channel guide at the bottom of the screen and hit him in the arm or the leg and go “Ooh!” demand that we watch it.

I mean we talk and stuff, but if it’s not the right weather for balcony cocktails and drunk people-watching (them, not us… well, sometimes us) we watch TV, too.

Sunday night was a particularly bad night for television. The channel surfing landed on the one program we could find with an interesting title:

When Fish Attack 2.

“When Fish Attack 2?! Fish can attack?” I asked.

“Well…” Jack thought about it. He was tired.

“Okay, so, piranha and barracuda. What else?”

“Um…”

“And there are two of these shows?” I wanted to confirm.

“How could one of those shows be enough?” Jack replied.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but we sort of got sucked in. This giant elephant seal was floating around in some ocean somewhere nomming on a guy’s head. You can’t not watch a swimming mass of blubber with a huge proboscis nom on a guy’s head. But something was off. It wasn’t, like, ferocious. It didn’t look scary. The show kept cutting over to an interview with a guy who had a scar in the middle of his forehead that looked like it matched elephant seal teeth, but the video of the “attack” didn’t look very attack-y.

“This video looks like…not scary,” I said to Jack without taking my eyes off the screen.

“No,” he agreed, staring sort of half-consciously. “It doesn’t seem urgent.”

We watched.

“I feel like it’s a dramatic reenactment,” I said, “but I can’t figure out how you get an elephant seal to dramatically reenact something.”

The elephant seal had switched from the guy’s head to his arm. The narrator was talking about how the seal was feasting on this guy’s flesh, but it looked to me like the dude could totally have just yanked his arm out of the seal’s mouth, swum away, grabbed a bushel of crabs and gone for dinner, no problem. There was no blood in the water and this big lug of a swimming blob wasn’t looking very savage. I watch Shark Week. I know what I’m talking about. This wasn’t savage.

“Also I think those things are… um…” I poked myself in the forehead. “What’s the thing that’s opposite of carnivore?”

“Herbivore?” Jack offered helpfully.

Yes. Herbivores. Like, they have kind of flat teeth. So they don’t really maul humans, I don’t think,” I decided.

Okay, so I’ve looked it up and technically elephant seals are pescetarian.   Sting rays, baby sharks, etc. So I was wrong there. But still. No blood in the water, and also the camera, which was held by another diver, wasn’t foundering around like the cameraman was all, “OMG, my buddy is being eaten alive by an elephant seal!”

"I will nom your head! But just a little."

We watched. Silent. Possibly slack-jawed from the lateness of the hour.

A couple of minutes went by.

“That isn’t a fish,” I observed.

“Not a fish,” Jack confirmed immediately on the heels of my observation.

Beat.

Beat.

“I mean the show is called ‘When Fish Attack.'”

“Two.”

“Right. But…”

“Not a fish.”

We watched.

“Hey, you know that Hillbilly Handfishin’ show?” Jack was suddenly animated and looking at me instead of the screen.

“Yeah?” We had watched it before on a similarly late night get-together and mocked it and the people on it, and the concept in general.

“So I know these two guys, and they’re gonna be on it.”

“Shut. Up.” I turned my body entirely toward him. “When? How did that happen?”

Jack told me the story of how he knows these guys and how they wound up getting on “Hillbilly Handfishin’,” which involves sticking your hands  – or feet – into crevasses under water in muddy rivers somewhere in the south to snag catfish without benefit of bait or line. It’s ridiculous and the guy who takes these people out on these little adventures is so furry he looks like he’s wearing a sweater when he’s shirtless in the water.

The guy on the right. So furry.

“They’re gonna be on on the… uh… 23rd,” Jack finished.

“We have to watch that!” I demanded. And then I told him about my friends who are going to be on one of those New Homeowner shows on TLC or HGTV or DIY or something, which he was slightly less interested in, evidently because it didn’t involve my friends sticking their feet into crevasses under water to goad catfish into chomping them.

Back on the Discovery Channel, we were now treated to a storyline about a giant whale that attacked a sailboat by breeching and body-slamming it. This was more compelling. This was actually sort of great video of this whale hurling itself out of the sea and ka-powing this boat with this South African couple on it. We were sufficiently impressed by the craziness of this kind of thing happening while you were minding your own business in he middle of the ocean. But…

Body-slam!

“Also not a fish,” I said.

“Nope. Not a fish,” Jack agreed.

I found some energy. “This show’s title is very misleading,” I groused.

Jack nodded and made a disapproving face.

“I mean this is the Discovery Channel. It’s supposed to be educational.”

“That’s true.”

“They’re really doing children a disservice,” I opined.

The show moved on to a third storyline, about apparently crazy people who lie on a dock to feed tiny fish to tarpon. Tarpon are sport fish. The guy getting interviewed explained that they are strong and fast and they have gullets that allow them to swallow their prey whole and something about a bone that lets them crush their food as they swallow. And these people were leaning down with little fish in their hands so the tarpon could jump up out of the water and eat them. Sometimes, they’d latch on to the crazy people’s hands and leave bloody marks.

“Augh!” Jack exclaimed, squeezing my knee reflexively, scrunching up his face and curling his upper lip back. Jack doesn’t like blood. He won’t ever watch surgery shows with me, even fictional ones.

Another tarpon fish grabbed a littler fish from some kid’s hand and left a bite.

“Gah!” Jack twisted away, averting his eyes.

“Well, at least it’s a fish,” I said.

Bravo for correctly identifying the species.

He agreed.

“But you know, they’re not really attacking,” I said. “They’re just… eating.”

“Yeah, and the people getting bitten are just holding the food.”

“Right!”

“Which is dumb.”

We watched.

Jack winced.

We watched some more.

“You know, I don’t–“

“This show is very disappointing,” Jack concluded, and flipped the channel.

“And misleading,” I insisted. “Don’t forget misleading.”

“Yes. Misleading.”

“I’m going to write a letter.”

“You should.”

He flipped to ESPN. We compared NFL records and rolled our eyes about people who think they can predict the outcome of the season, two weeks in. And then he started falling asleep and I felt bad, so I left.

It was a good night. For us, I mean. Not for the Discovery Channel. Lying jerks. Fish attacks. Hmph.

Flux-Schematic

Someone Please Fix the Flux Capacitor

Something is not quite right in the universe.

I’ve suspected it for a while, but I know for sure now because my television doesn’t seem to remember what channels things are supposed to be on.

The last four weeks, if we’re honest, have just been off-kilter. First there was an earthquake. Then my father’s uncle died. Then there was a hurricane. Then there was my great-uncle’s funeral, and the slot machine floral arrangement, which, I think we can all agree, is hilarious but still not right. Then there was all the stuff I’ve posted about with my friend’s family that I won’t go into again. There was the super-skinny obvi-gay kid with the yarmulke mailing 40 packages at the post office, which wasn’t a disaster and it doesn’t even matter that he was obvi-gay but was definitely just weird to see in my ultra-orthodox neighborhood. And there was torrential rain for days and flooding in some places. And then a tornado.

I may or may not have slept through the frogs.

And then it got really weird.

Friday I saw a guy on one side of the street, walking away from me on the sidewalk in red plaid knee-length shorts and a pink striped shirt. And before I could recover from that, I saw a jogging terrorist on the other side of the street, running toward me, wearing indescribably strange clothes and a red lycra ski mask.

*shakes head*

What the hell was that?

Someone told me that those masks wick perspiration.

Great. So, a sweaty-faced jogging terrorist.

Slash bank robber.

With colorful flair.

A couple weeks ago, my downstairs neighbors’ baby turned one, and they were going to have a party for him, and they had big balloons floating on the ceiling in the living room. Only I didn’t know that, so when one of them popped really loudly directly underneath my ass as I sat on my floor around 1:30 in the morning the night before the kid’s birthday, and I felt it, I thought it sounded like a gunshot or, at the very least, an electrical explosion of some kind. So I went downstairs and tried to peer through the windows, and when that didn’t work I kind of knocked, but not too hard in case it really had been a gunshot, and then I thought it was really weird that nobody heard me knock and that the kid didn’t wake up and cry after the noise, and also I smelled something kind of funny, so I called the cops.

Yup. I did. And I explained that I know nothing about guns or gunshots, and I’m not saying it was a gunshot, but that’s what it sounded like.

(The whole time I was thinking how these neighbors are Filipino and this was an arranged marriage and the baby has a really unfortunate skin condition so he cries a lot and only the mom works so the dad is home all day with the crying baby and they only have one car which the mom takes to work which would make me pretty crazy, so it totally could have been a gunshot. But I didn’t tell the police any of that.)

And the cops knocked a few times and the neighbors finally opened the door all messy-haired and confused and I saw the balloons and I was all, “Ohhhhhhhh.”

Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

 Then one night I was minding my own business in my living room when a huge spider the size of the palm of my hand came strolling out from behind the TV on the wall. Just la-dee-da like it owned the place. I gasped and jumped back and it jumped back because apparently it heard me. I knew I couldn’t just scoop it up on a piece of paper and escort it out of the building or into the bathroom, because it was huge and would definitely just scamper up my arm and lay eggs in my ear.

I mean, it had knees.

So I trapped it under a glass against the wall, and it jumped into the glass. And then I clamped a coffee mug on top of the glass, and it jumped up into the coffee mug. And then I high-tailed it into the bathroom and flung it into the toilet and flushed, and it ran around the bowl for a minute before it lost its footing and spiraled into the sewage system.

*shivers*

And then on 9/11, at exactly 6:00am, my smoke detector went off. A quick assessment of the lack of flames told me I was not on fire, and that is an important thing to notice when your smoke detector wakes you up at 6:00am. It’s a very surreal experience, compounded by the fact that it was 9/11 I was waiting to hear about my friend’s brother (which I’m not going into here, but you can read about here if you want to be sad).

So anyway, I got up and looked at the smoke detector, which is a few inches above my line of sight and which I could only vaguely see since I’m blind without corrective lenses. On something like the fourth series of obnoxiously ear-splittingly loud beep-beep-beeps, I clumsily pushed the Shut UP Already Button.

And then I just stared at the thing.

Because I could not figure out why it had gone off, and it was confusing me.

I went back to bed, and a few minutes later it went off again. Fantastic.

After I hit the Yes, I Get It, You Sense Danger, STOP BEEPING Button again, I climbed up on a chair and unscrewed the top of the detector from the wall to see if there was some sort of battery situation that meant it would go off every few minutes for the rest of the morning. It was when I was screwing the thing back onto the wall that I realized it’s also a carbon monoxide detector.

Aw, hell.

Now I can’t go back to bed in case I’m slowly being poisoned to death while my friend’s brother is dying on September 11th. Because that particular combination would totally suck and also would be super-inconsiderate of my friend who already has enough on his mind without me dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I wonder how I know whether it thinks there’s smoke (which there’s not) or carbon monoxide (which I don’t know about since it’s odorless and colorless and invisible), I thought.

This. Is so. Annoying.

I had no idea where there might be an owner’s manual for the detector, so next thing I know I’m on the internet at 6:15am trying to find a website for the company that makes the detector so it will tell me what I need to know about whether I’m going to die soon or whether I can just go back to bed. I found the company and the model and the FAQs, but of course none of the Qs were “How do I know if I’m going to die from smoke inhalation and flames, or poisonous gas?”

How is that not an FAQ?

Then I remembered that I still had the bag of crap that the management company gave me when I moved in, and maybe there was an owner’s manual in there. I dug it out from under the bed opened it and turned it upside down on the bedroom floor. It rained magnets and pizza coupons and little boxes of fabric softener and then… AHA! The smoke/carbon monoxide detector alarm owner’s manual.

It was one of those six-folded tiny printed things. I held it close to my face and mumbled some of the words aloud until I hit on what I was looking for.

Three beeps followed by a pause, repeating, indicates smoke. Four beeps followed by a pause, repeating, indicates carbon monoxide.

Excellent. No poisonous gas. Just a stupid guest of the downstairs neighbors smoking a cigarette outside, directly below the window that’s right across from the smoke detector on a humid morning.

Then there was the 9/11 surrealism and the thing with my friend’s family that required traveling and three airports and a rental car and the complete lack of any understanding of a time-space continuum.

Then we had Wednesday through Saturday.

And then last night, a married guy I’ve known for a while asked me out, like, out, because apparently they have an open marriage.

And my television does not remember what channels things are supposed to be on. ABC is on CNN, and Fox is on CBS, and CW is on Fox, and I just plain can’t get CNN or CBS. If I flip a channel, it gives me the correct one for half a second and then flips of its own volition to the wrong one, without changing the actual channel. So it’s showing me CBS’s channel number with Fox on the screen.

And the Eagles lost to the Falcons after Michael Vick gave himself a concussion running into his own guy.

Something is definitely not right in the universe.

...Is this thing on?

Bachmann Perry

Taking Shots

CNN snuck a debate in on me while I was out of town, so I didn’t get to watch it or recap it. You’re devastated, I know. But I have seen a fair amount of fallout from it, and on one subject in particular, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here: the HPV vaccine and the apparently fascist administration thereof. If you listen to Rep. Michele Bachmann, at least.

Now before I go further and alienate anyone who didn’t like the idea of a federal or state requirement that girls receive Gardasil injections, let me say that I do respect a parent’s decision on whether to opt out of that vaccination, or any other. These are careful considerations and not every parent wants to give their child every injection that’s recommended.

But if you’ll bear with me: there is a reality to face, here.

According to the National Institutes of Health, HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is actually an umbrella term for 150 viruses, more than 40 of which can cause cancer via sexual transmission. It causes a very high percentage of cervical cancers. It does not cause all cervical cancers, and it does not always cause cervical cancer. HPV is a virus that, in most women, will clear itself from her system in about a year and not cause any further problem. For those women who are unable to clear the virus, it alarmingly often causes cervical cancer.

Here’s my question: if we’ve finally found (and by “we” I mean “people I don’t even know,

HPV vaccine. Image from highlighthealth.com

much less claim bloodline with, but with whom I share the fraternity/sorority of being human”) a way to prevent a type of cancer… why are we bitching about it?

The reality is that even if a woman is a virgin upon marriage, there’s a decent chance her husband is not. (God love him.) There’s a decent chance he’s carrying HPV. It’s a silent virus; there are no symptoms for anyone.

So if your daughter is ever going to have sex with a man (I know nobody likes to think about it, but it’s going to happen unless she’s a lesbian… and even then she might try it once with a guy just to find out for sure), this seems like a pretty good vaccine in which to invest. Because it’s going to keep her from getting cancer from a silent virus that the majority of men carry. (According to cervicalcancer.org, 60% of women contract HPV in their lifetime; the estimate is that it is the same for men, but there are no true diagnostic tests for men.)

Now, Rep. Bachmann is making some serious political hay with this argument. And frankly, if she wants to gain ground against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, she has to. It’s the one thing she can beat him down on. He issued an executive order requiring girls (as young as 11) to get the vaccine. The recommended age was because of two things: trying to get to the girls before they became sexually active, and using the most effective window for their immune systems to absorb and process the vaccine. Perry included an opt-out plan, allowing parents to choose not to have their daughters inoculated. He has said, politically, he would like to go back and change the way he did it so that it would go through the state legislature. But I don’t see anything wrong with requiring girls to get a vaccine that will prevent cancer, and, by extension, help suppress the cost of healthcare diagnosis and treatment. It’s a win-win for girls, women, parents, and the healthcare industry. And again: parents were able to choose not to participate.

I don’t understand what the problem is.

I, for one, wish the HPV vaccine existed when I was young. It would be great to know that I don’t have to worry about cancer on top of everything else that every woman has to worry about once she becomes an adult, regardless of her risk factors. Even if she uses a condom (they break sometimes); even if she’s a virgin when she gets married. My mother is as Catholic as they come, and she and my father agreed that my baby sister should get the shot when it first came out. Maybe it was a year later; either way, she was a teenager. My parents would never give their daughters birth control, even if they knew we were sexually active (and we weren’t) because they believed it would encourage – by way of less discouragement – sexual activity. I’m now 34 and I’m pretty sure they still think that. But they got my little sister vaccinated as a teenager. Because my uber-Catholic mother, who once told me that French kissing is a mortal sin (ruh-roh Rorge), understood that this vaccine is not about sex. 

It’s about CANCER.

Fine. It’s a type of cancer we can get from sex. So what? It’s cancer.

And there’s a vaccine for it.

How is this NOT a “glory, hallelujah” no-brainer?!

The reason Rep. Bachmann can make hay from this argument is trifold:

1) It implies sex, even if it’s not really about sex. A sure win with Evangelicals, Tea Partiers and others who base their political votes on religious views.

2) It’s about big government. Any time any member of the government requires you to do something (besides pay taxes or obey laws), that’s a violation of Tea Party standards.

3) It’s about campaign/political contributions. And nobody likes a sell-out.

Rep. Bachmann has claimed that Gov. Perry got money from Merck, the manufacturers of Gardasil, and that’s why he pushed through an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV.  Gov. Perry says they gave him $5,000. Other sources show he got more like $30,000.

You know what? That’s one lobby I’m happy to have around. Whatever lobby there is that says, “We’ll pay you if you make people get a shot that will prevent cancer” — I’m on-board.

And in terms of political interest, I can’t help but take issue with the way Rep. Bachmann framed her attack on Gov. Perry. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. That’s a violation of a liberty interest. That’s– little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a Mulligan. They don’t get a do-over. The parents don’t get a do-over.”

“Innocent little 12-year-old girls.” “Government injection.”  How does that not sound like a scare tactic on a grand scale?

Rep. Bachmann claimed, after the newest CNN debate, that she met a woman whose daughter became mentally handicapped after receiving the vaccine. If that’s true, I’m heartbroken for that family. But according to the American Association of Pediatrics, it’s not true. They say there have been 35,000,000 HPV vaccinations given out and the drug has an excellent safety record, and there is zero evidence that Gardasil has caused mental handicaps. I’m not saying vaccines are perfect and I’m not saying manufacturers don’t hide things, but if you’ll give your kids shots for diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and myriad other illnesses, what is so different about one for HPV?

Odds are, it’s going to prevent cervical cancer. And that’s all it will do to your daughter.

Again, I respect it if you choose not to immunize your daughter. You have your reasons. My youngest nephew is 18 months old and has had no vaccines, and as much as that scares me, I respect his parents’ decision. But let’s remember: the government requires children to be vaccinated against several contagious viruses and/or bacteria by school age. How is this vaccine different, in a government overreach sense? If not inoculating your young daughter against HPV is your decision, I may not agree, but I’m not her mother, and that’s that. But if, God forbid, she ever gets the virus and winds up with cervical cancer, she might have a problem with the fact that you refused to let her get the shot. And you might regret it, too.

I would – truly respectfully  – ask you: is your decision because you’re afraid your daughter will have sex? Or is it because you’re worried about the potential medical side-effects of the vaccine? If it’s the former, I guarantee you: she will have sex one day. And it won’t be about her. It will be about her partner. Who you did not raise, whose morals you did not shape. And he, unwillingly, regretfully, could expose your daughter to HPV that may develop into cervical cancer. He won’t mean to. He won’t want to. He won’t even know he’s doing it. He will love your daughter and never want to hurt her. But it could happen.

If your reason is the side effects, I remind you that all the evidence thus far shows that the vaccine is very safe.

Politics are one thing. Life and death are another. If Rep. Bachmann wants to pander to Tea Party Religious Right extremists, that’s where the votes are for her, and that’s what she needs to do. But I hope Americans see it for what it is, and I hope Rick Perry never apologizes for wanting girls to be protected.

It’s not about sex. It’s about cancer. And there is something Rep. Bachmann was right about. Innocent girls don’t get a do-over. And neither do their parents.

For Friends

Vigil

It is a strange thing, keeping vigil for a death that does not belong to you. The loved one of a loved one hovers between living and dying, and you sit hundreds of miles away and wait. The family gathers at the bedside and stares at monitors and the breathing man before them who is not there. And you are at home, at work. You are on your couch, at your desk. With your phone. Your email. Your Facebook account.

Waiting with them.

********

Friday, noon

Text, with Joey, who’s waiting for his flight to depart

Me: I am at the post office. There is an uber-gay, uber-skinny, uber-jewish guy in a yarmulke mailing, i kid you not, like 40 packages.

Joey: Are you crazy? Take a photo

Me: :-) can’t. would be soooo obvious.

Joey: PLEASE

Me: I can’t. Already gone.

Joey: gay and orthodox?

Me: No sideburn curls, so conservative or orthodox. he’s a RAIL. benji. i’d guess 26, tops.

Joey: if he’s a redhead get his #

******

Friday, evening

Text, with Joey, at the hospital

Joey: Ugh
hospital vigil
tubes are out
we wait

Me: I can’t find the best words to ask how you are

Joey: Very tough
but we are going to survive

Me: Yes, you will. and there will be happy days, and there will be joyful days. I have, no kidding, 50 people working on making that happen… just in case.

Joey: we need it

Me: no shit
you have my entire church choir (grandparents, all but 4 of them) and whatever random people get the prayer requests from the online form
jack, my sisters, my mother, for the love
my mother is praying for your family from ireland, by the way. we’ve spanned the globe!

Joey: nice
and efficient

Me: It’s all I can do

Joey: that is plenty

********

I slept with my phone beside me, inches from my hand so that I could snatch it immediately as any message or call came in. I slept in fits and starts, every waking moment wondering. Did I have it right? The circumstances? The condition? Joey, if not his whole family, had left the hospital to go back to the house. Michael’s blood pressure was up, his breathing was shallow. But he was still here. Only not really here.

Still. Waiting.

********

Saturday, 8:30am

Text, with Angie

Angie: FUCK, that’s early!

Me: ?

Angie: Did u get joey’s text that the funeral is Monday at 11?

Me: No. did it say anything else?

Angie: Nope. Just funeral is monday at 11. Meg got it too.

Me: You know, I admire Mary Ann’s efficiency, but come on.

Angie: Right? Ouch. Hey, she’s got a busy week; things to do!

********

I could not stop thinking about Michael, about Joey, about their mother, Mary Ann. As I sat before my computer, trying to be productive, I found myself wandering to Michael’s Facebook page. Friends had been posting messages for days. I traced them back to the day of the accident. Hopeful posts full of cheery words of encouragement and casual affection. Full of the expectation that Michael would one day wake and read this page, laugh at the inside jokes, the Super Bowl predictions made before game one of the regular season. And then, a slight shift. More sadness. Posts about how much he was loved. It reminded me of those vigils on the news, for teenagers at high schools, dead from some similar tragedy. Posterboards full of pink-inked messages and hearts drawn between them. Thursday night, a benefit, hastily arranged with auction items and two live bands, held at the bar where Michael worked. By Friday, Michael’s page was just heartbreaking. A girl, Sara — the most frequent poster all along, professing how much she loved her friend, telling him he has to pull through, telling him she can’t wait for him to wake up and see how much he’s loved.

At the end of the day, she posted again. “I’m fucking begging you,” she said.

I was frustrated by these messages for reasons it seems unkind to explain. I wanted these friends to understand that Michael was not coming back, that their posts on his page may only magnify the pain his family was feeling. I knew that their messages would serve as a kind of guest book. I understood their hurt, but I wanted them to stop hoping. They seemed so young. They didn’t seem to know that sometimes hope is the unkindest thing of all.

My eyes kept going to Sara’s photo. Michael is in it with her. I don’t even know this girl and I’m worried about how she’ll take this. She loves him. It is clear from just a few words in a handful of posts scattered between other people’s sentiments that she loves him. I later learned that she had been his girlfriend until two months before.

********

Saturday, late morning

Text, with Angie, Meg and Will:

Me: Joey just called. he’s totally annoyed with Michael. “you’re just draaaagging it out, aren’t you?” he’s saying his bp is up, breathing is shallow but because his heart is strong he can hold out for a while. apparently there’s a plan to stick w/monday if he dies by 5pm. omfg, right? it’s about the obit deadline. oh, and grandma fell on her face yesterday and is all bruises. joey called her a drama queen.

Meg: Wow. I don’t think there are words. Um… so, exactly what should we be praying for now?

********

Joey couldn’t sit in Michael’s room on Saturday. He told me during a phone call that he’d sat there for six hours Friday. “It’s awful. I’m staring at him, and then I’m looking at the monitor: ‘Oh, look, the line changed.’ ‘Oh, it’s down to 27.’ ‘Oh, now it’s 50.’ And then I look at Michael. “

I thought of my uncle, and how we had done the exact same thing, how staring at the monitors and almost willing the lines to flatten had felt like such a maudlin thing to do. How wondering, every time he exhaled and held still, whether he had taken his last breath. And then he would take another.

“He’s not there,” Joey told me. “I know it. He’s just… this isn’t him. He’s gone.”

********

Saturday, early afternoon

Text, with Sister 2

Sister 2: So, do you think there’s a trip to Ohio in your near future?

Me: well, i’ve already booked an early am flight monday, return tues afternoon, rental car and hotel. so this whole michael not quite dying thing is a bit awkward now.

Sister 2: Hahaha. Oh man. That’s what u get for being proactive.

Me: this is the problem with joey’s mother’s efficiency. she doesn’t mess around. she’s done this before and she wants it over. so she set the funeral for monday @11a. but now it’s like, “michael, you have to die by 5p or we’ll miss the obit deadline for the paper and we’ll have to postpone your funeral.” rude.

Sister 2: Oh my goodness. I thought u just assumed when it would be or something. That is so totally awkward.

Me: it really is. as i was booking it i was kind of like, “what if…?” so now it’s all, “So, like, uh… what’s your deal?” and michael’s fb page is a disaster. i can’t look anymore.

Sister 2: people saying their final goodbyes via fb?

Me: some goodbye, some hang on you can do this, some begging… it’s also odd b/c he’s 32 but a lot of these people seem younger.

Me (2): and joey says people are sending condolences and then coming back saying they didn’t realize he hadn’t died, maybe there’s a chance, woohoo, and joey’s like, “he’s brain dead. stop.”

Sister 2: Huh. That’s terrible. I’d stop reading that pronto.

Me: and so I did.   also I just realized i accidentally sent that last msg to joey instead of you. so that’s awesome.

Sister 2: I am leaning on the washing machine guffawing at your misfortune. and what did your follow up to him say? so sorry, am letting my sister know how things are going… awkward death vigil emoticon?

Me: I thought about sending an oops sorry text but then i thought, “screw it.” i’m leaving it alone. fortunately i did NOT send him the one that I sent to angie and meg in which I quoted will: “next time, wait til he’s dead.”

********

Saturday, 5:00pm

Text, with Angie

Angie: aaaaand TIME.

Me: you are seriously not right.

Me(2): it’s like you put an expiration date on his expiration date. that said… I’m hovering over “cancel trip” on travelocity…

Angie: Ooh. Can they do a full refund? Just got Joey’s text.

Me: why am I not getting these mass texts he’s sending? what does it say?

Angie: FWD: “No change… We are in limbo and it’s exhausting and sucks. Funeral will be Tuesday at the earliest now… stay tuned.”

********

The internet can completely confuse any situation with its information. I looked up “brain death” and searched for a credible source. I was wondering what part of the brain controls heart rate and breathing. The information I read told me that if his heart was beating and his lungs taking air (however shallowly), he technically was not completely brain dead.

Which was awful news, in a terribly twisted way.

I wondered. When Mary Ann and the doctors agreed it was best not to reinsert the feeding tube, had they done something merciful, or had they missed their chance? If the latter, a chance at what? Was there valor in preserving life that couldn’t live in hopes of a miracle, or just a clearer conscience? Suddenly life teetered on a thin line not of breath and beat, but of liquefied nourishment, withheld. What would take its toll first: the relative lack of oxygen in lungs inhaling but not filling, slowly dissipating in his blood, slowly shutting down his functions? Or starvation and dehydration? Which was crueler? Without consciousness, without cognition, was either cruel at all?

********

Saturday evening

Facebook, with Joey

Joey: so over it

Me: I know honey

Joey: exhausted
and cranky
we cleaned out his room and such
my family is exhausted

Me: it will be over eventually
there will be an end to this part

Joey: Blah
a mother in law lasted TEN DAYS

Me: WHOSE mother-in-law?!

Joey: some woman

********

Text, with Angie, Meg and Will

Me: FYI, i cancelled the arrangements i booked. will rebook when we KNOW plans. i’m fb chatting w/joey… he’s “over it” and @ home eating pasta.

Meg: Oh my. if he has resorted to carbs, it must be bad.

*******

Text, with Sister 2

Me: So… michael has missed his print deadline. :-/ i’ve cancelled the trip i booked on travelocity (full refund – woot!) and i will rebook when we know for sure.

Sister 2: I was so totally just wondering how to word my question about whether or not he made the obit print deadline. Hooray for full refunds. Is joey texting u frequently or infrequently right now

Me: we’re fb chatting. he’s “over it.” he went back to the house to eat pasta. (he never eats pasta.) Ps don’t worry about wording. angie texted me at EXACTLY 5:00 and said “aaaaand TIME.” last night she asked me if we had an “official lights out” yet.

Sister 2: So, recap. Joey had another bro who already died? or am i making that up? and michael and how many sisters

Me: okay, here’s the tree. mary ann and ed had joey, michael and emily. they divorced early 80s. mary ann married tom mid-80s. his wife had committed suicide in ’82. he had melanie and jacqueline. mary ann and tom had david together. tom was an abusive alcoholic who shot himself in the head in 2001. david, who was 13 or 14 at the time, found him. he lingered for 5 days before they took him off life support. david was killed in a car accident in november 2010, three days after melanie got engaged. michael’s accident was four days before her wedding. his pneumonia set in on her wedding day and that’s what spiked the pressures, swelled his brain and led to the stroke. meanwhile, jacqueline and melanie are fighting mary ann over their father’s trust. and then there’s joey and emily.

Sister 2: I’m going to pitch their family story to Lifetime. They’re dropping like flies.

Me: we’ve decided that mary ann is basically the heroine of a steinbeck novel.

Sister 2: how do we feel about melanie’s marriage? seems cursed. and the fighting over the trust… so this is super awkward.

Me: oh it’s super-duper awkward. joey doesn’t believe jackie and melanie would have initiated the legal battle if david hadn’t died b/c he had a vote too and would not have allowed it. they started it just weeks after he died. see, melanie’s new dad-in-law is a lawyer.

Sister 2: I need to see this in a diagram of some sort

Me: took me years to get it right.

********

The way we love our friends is sometimes more powerful than the way we love our family members. It is not a matter of intensity, or depth, or sincerity. It is a matter of movement, of ache, and the odd frustration of not sharing fully in the grief, and therefore not knowing how much right we have to feel it. It was natural but disconcerting, being so consumed with thoughts of Michael when I had barely been choked up at the death of my father’s uncle two weeks before. Sitting with this, I understood that this was simply, and horribly, a case of too much suffering for a dear friend and his family, and two young men gone far too soon. My great-uncle was 87. Joey’s brothers had been 24 and 32.

I could not sleep.

********

Loss

Sunday 9:40am

Text, while I am en route to church to sing at a 9/11 memorial Mass:

Joey: Michael died at 8:30am this morning. Funeral is Tuesday.

********

I cannot cry, because I have to sing. I turn off the 9/11 memorial services playing on the radio. Later, I do cry, but it’s after church, and I am not quite sure whether I am crying for Michael and Joey’s family, or for thousands of others.

********

Joey and I spoke for a while on the phone that afternoon. He told me he’s sort of angry at Michael for dying on the anniversary of 9/11. Now his family can’t even own the day; it’s overshadowed, upstaged by national memorial events. I told Joey his feelings remind me of an interview I heard on NPR the other day, with a woman who lost her husband on 9/11. She feels that it’s odd and intrusive that the whole nation puts her through the day all over again every year. It’s such a deeply personal loss, to lose your husband, and the whole country claims him as their own. It takes away. “I find ‘Never forget’ to be a sort of odd thing,” she said. “If you want to move on, you have to forget.”

Joey, as a New Yorker, will forever be conflicted about how to grieve that day.

Joey said he thinks Michael and David are deeply upset by the Steelers’ loss. He’s sure it’s ruined their reunion plans for the day. He knows I don’t like the Steelers. “Don’t bring that up when you’re here,” he said.

“No, I won’t. There’s already been enough tragedy without me bringing up the Steelers.”

********

Sunday, late afternoon

Facebook, with Joey

Joey: Was it gauche to ask the girls to bring ice cream?

Me: Absolutely not. I love your specificity.

Joey: Um, YEAH
last thing I need is to waste the opportunity on some weird flavor
Though the sweet corn and blueberry is amazing.

Me: I’ve heard about that. And something with lavender…?

Joey: Oh, the lavender honey is delish
and odd
less of an ice cream and more of an apertif

Me: an amuse bouche

Joey: EXACTLy
I think I am going back on Wednesday
so I can celebrate my birthday at the beach

Me: ah, good man. I wondered what you’d do about your birthday.

Joey: I love it when you talk like Judi Dench.

Me: There is nothin’ like a dame.

Joey: MA is very much “back to normal.” Plus our limit is five days. It gets ugly.

Me: I hear ya. How is your father?

Joey: Oy. He’s driving me insane. He’s trying to chase down an urn. He’s OBSSESSED.

********

Minutes later

Phone call

“You are NOT staying in that hotel. It’s FOUL,” Joey declared at me.

“Joey, I know, but–“

“No. We’re not having it. You’re coming here. You’ll stay at the neighbors’.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially. “Mrs. Baker is a little put-out. She thought the others would be staying so she’s done all this work and now she wants a houseguest.”

“Well, if you–“

“My mother wants to talk to you.”

Oh, God. I haven’t offered condolences and she’s going to light right in to why I shouldn’t stay at the hotel. Don’t put her on the phone.  “Jo–“

The phone is handed over.

“You are NOT staying in that hotel, that’s ridiculous. We have plenty of room. Come here. That way when we party all night tomorrow night you don’t have to drive back to that horrible hotel. Really. A hotel? Stay here.”

“Well… if you want me to stay there, I appreciate it. I just wanted to give the family room,” I tried to explain.

“We have TONS of room!” came from Joey in the background.

“We have plenty,” Mary Ann agreed. “You won’t be with us. You’ll be at the neighbors’. It’s silly. Stay here. You’re staying here. That’s it. Cancel that awful hotel.”

********

Funeral

The night before the service, when I rang the bell at the lake house, I could hear Joey excitedly declaring my arrival through the panes of glass along the side of the front door. He wrapped me in a tight hug as soon as he opened it and thanked me for coming. Mary Ann mirrored her only remaining son’s reaction to my presence.

At the table in the expansive kitchen were three sets of neighbors, and Mary Ann’s partner, George. Introductions were made with those I had not met before. I was the first friend of my generation to arrive. They fed me. Grandma came, and was hard to look at; the way her injuries had settled themselves in her 86-year-old skin after her fall had left her entire face purpled and greened, from forehead to jawline, on both sides of her nose and all the way across to her temples. But she was smiling right up to her eyes behind scratched glasses.

Around the table, stories. Wine and laughing. So much food. Life, in stop-animation, with the understanding that it would go on, however heavily, after this. I kept looking at Joey and Michael’s sister Emily, who looked so much like Michael. She was the youngest, since David had died. I kept wondering, as she sat quietly listening and smiling, how she would do from now on with this grief. Mary Ann said a family friend, who is a doctor, had looked at Michael’s CT scans from between the bicycle accident and the stroke he suffered as a result of the injuries and pneumonia. “It was bad from the beginning,” Mary Ann said. “There was too much damage. We made the right choice.” It almost sounded like she did not need to convince herself.

Will arrived, toting a hundred pictures of the five of us friends from college, which were shared around the table. Then he, Joey and I went down to stand on the dock that jutted into the lake from the backyard. In the glow of the light from the house, we talked about the fight over the trust fund, and cast the movie version of the memoir Joey was now sure to write.

In the morning, in the Bakers’ kitchen, Mrs. Baker fed me breakfast casserole and good coffee and we talked about the unbelievable tragedies that had befallen our dear friends’ family. “We’re all so close,” she told me as she described the history of this nestled side of the big lake, houses propped next to each other separated by mere feet. She told me how, when everyone’s kids were young, there were community meals, dinners shared all together, almost every night, breakfasts almost every morning, each neighbor taking a turn until it cycled back around again. She told me how her son Nathan had been so close with David, how they had grown up together, and how he had an interview for medical school two months after David had died.

“The interviewer asked him, ‘So when you go home, what are you going to tell your best friend about this day?'” The tears came quickly and her throat closed, and she needed a moment before she could continue. “Nathan couldn’t even speak to answer the question.” She wiped her eyes. “That was the worst,” she said, mostly to herself.

She told me how angry she was at Melanie and Jacqueline. She said Mary Ann had told her two nights before, “A year ago, I had six kids. Now, it looks like I only have two.”

But the day was beautiful and the lake was sparkling, and the funeral service was just as one should be. It was hopeful, it spoke of joy far more than sorrow, of gratitude far more than pain. Joey eulogized his brother perfectly, but worked in a very pointed reference to Michael’s valued preference for family harmony – a sentence for which he leveled a steely gaze directly at Melanie and Jacqueline, who had called relatives to explain their side of the fight before the funeral; who ha arrived minutes before the service and who left immediately following, with their husbands. I had spotted Sara among the large crowd of mourners, her eyes swollen and red. I wanted to hug her and tell her I was heartbroken for her, a girl at a loss for where to sit in a world that seemed to have crumbled so quickly for her. The church, it was noted, in some ways resembled a teepee, which was a fitting representation on this occasion, given Michael’s deep passion for Native American history. There were windows all around the sanctuary, and we seemed to be celebrating Michael’s life in the middle of nothing but trees. Angie and Meg had arrived from their long drives a few minutes before the Mass began, and the happy sounds of Meg’s 10-month-old daughter echoed in the church.

After the luncheon, those closest to the family went back to the lake house. In the soothing breeze of a September day, in the sunlight that bathed the lake and the lawn, there was serenity. Friends sat circled. We five occupied steps and lawn space, the first time we had actually all been in the same place at the same time since Angie’s wedding seven years ago. As I walked into the house to gather my belongings and begin my goodbyes so I could make my way to my flight, I turned back and saw my college friends, framed by the French doors, backed by the shimmering water. “You’re not leaving,” Joey mouthed at me – a gentle restraint rather than a question or a complaint. And I wished I didn’t have to. Despite 16 years of friendship, this was the first true glimpse I had at our future, at knowing that we would do this again and again for each other.

“You know how to find us now,” Mary Ann’s partner, George, said to me, his hand on my arm. “Will you find us again?” I told him I hoped I would.

“Joey needs…” he searched for a word. “Support. Is that a good word?” I nodded. “We weren’t nearly over David,” he finished. “Not nearly over David, when this happened.” And for the dozenth time, I had no idea what I could possibly say that would sound at all graceful or right.

As I drove to the airport, the song that had been playing over and over in my head since Sunday returned. I had seen James Taylor perform it in a brief amount of coverage I allowed myself to watch of the 9/11 memorial in New York. It is a song that ruins me on a good day, for reasons I have never understood. On Sunday, with the weight of sadness that comes from the indelible memory of the attacks and Michael’s death compounding it, the song seemed fitting and absolute. I will never hear it again without thinking of Michael, and of the gut-wrenching event now known simply as September Eleventh. But I hope I will also think of a sun-drenched home on a sparkling lake, and a day when love between family and friends was as tangible as the grass on which we sat, in honor of a young man who deserved his own remembrance. And I hope, through the sadness, I will smile.

reagan debate

Ding! Round Three: the Reagan Presidential Library

“If 10% is good enough for God, 9% had better be good enough for the federal government.”

And so began the latest GOP presidential debate. What a perfect way to gel the GOP presidential candidates’ general philosophy: “Render unto God what is God’s. Ceasar can kiss my ass.”

Herman Cain is the candidate I quoted off the top, there. He was talking about his proposed 9-9-9 tax system: 9% tax on corporations, personal income and sales. His theory is that this tax system would level the playing field for all businesses, large and small, and create a new, otherwise unheard-of version of a flat tax that would benefit members of every socioeconomic class.

It was just the first of several semi-ridiculous things uttered on the stage.  To wit:

Rep. Michele Bachmann thinks that “Obamacare” (I hate that term) is responsible for a 47% jobless rate for young African-Americans and 37% for young Latinos. I have no idea how, since most of it hasn’t been implemented yet and I’m pretty sure those young people were not working in the health industry before that law was passed.

President Reagan? Is that you?

Rep. Rick Santorum said Ronald Reagan would have “melted like the old Wicked Witch of the West” before he would have handled Libya the way President Obama did. It was only one of many, many pandering statements and suppositions about the late president. Don’t get me started on the canonization of Ronald Reagan. (This debate was held at the library bearing his name.) I mean no disrespect to the late president, but aside from the fact that he was president 30 years ago – an eon in political time – the gilded age that Republicans seem to remember under President Reagan just did not happen. Maybe these politicians just think it did because they were among those wealthy people whose money it was hoped would “trickle down” to the lowly masses below them.

I told you not to get me started.

Gov. Rick Perry says “maybe it’s time for some provocative language in this country.” He

This man does not control Social Security.

was talking about his firm belief that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and that it is a “monstrous lie” to tell young people that they’re paying into a system that will be there for them when they need it. This statement did two things: it told everyone who votes in Republican primaries that Bernie Madoff gave them Social Security; and it perpetuated the misunderstanding that what we pay in is what we can expect to get out. But I’m not going to argue about Social Security; I’m a member of a generation that’s fairly certain we won’t see any of its benefits when we reach “retirement age.” That is, should we actually get to retire — my PayPal account will be set up shortly; feel free to make donations to my future well-being. Yes, it’s socialist. Deal with it. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, HeadStart, welfare, college loans, federally-backed mortgages, FEMA, the stock market vis-a-vis your 401(k)… all socialist to some degree, if you want to be literal about it. So would it kill you to give $10 so I can still blog when I’m 80?

Anyway, what I’ll argue with Gov. Perry about here is the idea that it’s time for some provocative language in this country. I argue with that because I seem to remember spending eight years under the leadership of another Texas governor who had a “Bring It On” attitude toward foreign policy that earned us substantial dings in our reputation around the world.

Rep. Ron Paul doesn’t think the government should regulate the safety of vehicles or air travel; that should be left up to the companies that do the business in those arenas. Let’s ask the thoughts of drivers whose vehicles’ manufacturers resist recalls until some real disasters happen. He also thinks gas could cost 10 cents a gallon if we just applied ourselves. So… he’s still nuts. He makes sense, I root for him, and then he goes off the rails and I’m all, “Why do you keep doing that?!” It’s amazing. But I give him props (not “propes,” as Rick Perry called them) for being consistent.

Newt Gingrich says the President doesn’t really want to create jobs, because he hasn’t   asked Herman Cain how to do it. I don’t even know what to do with that assertion. He also told Brian Williams that he, frankly, was not interested in the moderators’ efforts to make these Republicans fight with each other. Memo to Gingrich: that’s what debates are for.

The candidate whose campaign frustrates me the most is still Jon Huntsman. He’s still not jumping up and down enough about China, where he was an ambassador for the US. Brian Williams fed him a question on China’s relationship to the American economy, and he still didn’t do it right. Sigh. He delivers applause lines and doesn’t get applause. Three people clapped when he said that he wants to bring American troops home from Afghanistan. At least half the room clapped when Rep. Ron Paul said it. Makes no sense. Huntsman, when asked about being the only one on the stage not to sign a pledge on taxes, said, “I’d love to get everyone to sign a pledge not to sign pledges. I have a pledge to my wife. I pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Aside from that, no pledges.” His point was that pledges equal special interests and that gets in the way of governing. He gets it. Apparently, the audience didn’t.

But Huntsman is working the eyebrow and I think he’s been studying the Andrew Shepard model of public speaking. That’s not an insult; I love Andrew Shepard. Then again, Shepard was a Democrat, so that’s probably not what Huntsman was going for.

Also he wasn’t real.

If you're standing behind the engines of what used to be Air Force One, how can you NOT think there's such a thing as man-made climate change?

But here’s what I love about Huntsman: he’s not like the others. I loved the anti-pledge line. I loved when he flatly stated that you can’t run away from science. He was talking about climate change, but I think it can be applied universally in this crop of candidates, be it climate change, human development, medicine, whatever you’d like. Gov. Perry said about climate change, “The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put the American economy in jeopardy based on science that’s not settled yet…” I’m sorry, but I have to ask: WHAT MORE PROOF DO YOU NEED? If you’re going to talk to me about the economy versus the literal breakdown of the planet, and, in your head, the corporate (not individual) economy wins hands-down, I have to question your morals.

Isn’t that ironic?

Rep. Bachmann seemed to want to compensate for her flagging numbers by pumping up

Pump up the volume!

the volume in her hair. It was the only thing about her that didn’t fall flat in this debate. That sounds sexist, so I’ll also point out that Mr. Romney seemed to have just gotten out of the shower before the debate began. Maybe that was actually the case. Maybe he just had way too much gel in his hair. But between that and the graying temples, and a suit that looked super-blue under the lights when the camera had him head-on, he actually looked a little like a lean version of Paulie Walnutsfrom “The Sopranos.”  And Newt Gingrich has the most amazing hair of all of them. It’s so fluffy and shiny and white. I was transfixed by it. So transfixed that I

Even Rick Santorum is awed by Gingrich's hair.

almost forgot to be completely befuddled by the way the crowds at these debates react to him when he says something populist. He reminds me of my father when he does it. He says something curt and snippy and gives the moderator a look that says, “I dare you to defy me,” and it goes over. This is, as I’ve said before, the most cerebral candidate on the stage. From what I’ve seen in recent campaigns, a populist approach and a cerebral approach do not go hand-in-hand. But when it comes from him, all awkward and unsure of how it will land, the audiences eat it up.

I think I might have to do a post on debate audiences. They crack me up.

Rep. Bachmann did herself some favors on foreign policy by talking about her service on the congressional committee. But I don’t think she had a night that was better than average. She’s been the most threatened by Perry’s entrance in the race. I haven’t quite worked out why she’s suffered as much as she has for it. If you have, please share your thoughts.

Former Pennsylvania senator and Google sensation (and oh, what a sensation) Rick Santorum got called on a few times. Who knew MSNBC would call on him more than Fox News Channel did? But he’s still a fringe candidate and I don’t see him ever gaining ground. He’ll hang around until Super Tuesday and then he’ll be gone.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds more like Pres. George W. Bush than he did last time I heard him

"You wanna go?! I'll fight you right now, old man!"

speak. “We got rid of a bad man in the form of Osama bin Laden,” he said. It’s not that it’s not true. It’s that he sounds exactly like the guy most of us (including a lot of staunch Republicans) were dying to get rid of in 2008. Why is it working for him? That said, I don’t think he had the night he hoped for in this debate. This was his chance to really explode onto the national stage, and instead I think he just introduced his persona with his “cuttin’ and cappin’ and gettin’.” Right now, I see no difference between him and President Bush.

I take that back. Gov. Perry comes off as being more thoughtful and intelligent.

I don’t actually think anyone really stood out in this debate. But that puts it in the Romney win column, for me. He’s still the one to beat, and with Bachmann fading and Perry gunslinging, he’s the only one left looking presidential.

But I really hope Rep. Ron Paul hangs around, just for the entertainment value.

Huntsman debates whether to use his powers for good or evil over Perry and Paul.

For a transcript of this debate: check out this link from the New York Times.

Too Many Storms To Weather

The hurricane of two weeks ago has apparently given way to monsoon season. But the pouring rain and all-day gray seem appropriate, because Irene seems to have ushered in a whole series of heartbreaking news. It’s so strange how that happens, isn’t it? Everything goes along fine, the usual little dips here and there but nothing dramatic, and then bam— too many sad things to process. Twin Nephs’ first babysitter died on September 2 from leukemia. She was in her late 50s. The news hit hard, as we understood that she was doing better. Her illness was the reason she had to stop watching Twin Nephs, little boys that she and her husband cared for from when they were three months old, boys they absolutely adored and hated to give up to someone else’s care. Her death preceded the tenth anniversary of my 55-year-old uncle’s death from leukemia by one day. It trailed word that a coworker in his late 40s has been diagnosed with leukemia by about four days.

How does that happen?

The bit of news that far preoccupies my mind right now is what’s happening with my dear friend Joey‘s family. They’ve always been given to dramatic heartbreak: divorce, suicide, complicated dynamics. Last November, Joey’s stepsister Melanie got engaged. Three days later, their youngest brother, David, was killed in a car accident. He was 24. Just a couple weeks after that, Melanie and her sister, Jacqueline, opened up a contentious legal battle with Joey’s mother, their stepmother, over the trust she oversaw after their father committed suicide 11 years ago. Joey doesn’t believe they would have done it if David were alive; David was the girls’ half-brother, sharing the same father. He had a vote, and Joey says he would never have allowed it. It has put Joey squarely in the middle, trying to preserve the relationship between his mother, himself, and the women he has called his sisters for nearly 30 years. It has gotten so contentious that the girls won’t speak to his mother. Not even at Melanie’s wedding this past Saturday.

Days before the wedding, on Wednesday, Joey’s 30-year-old brother, Michael, was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle home from the bar where he worked. The greatest injury was to his head, but the swelling in his brain decreased on its own and he was responding to painful stimuli while in a medically induced coma to quiet his brain activity and give him a chance to heal. The stimuli were working on every part of his body, so paralysis did not appear to be a possible outcome. We all believed he would recover. It might take time, but he would be alright. This family couldn’t possibly be made to endure more.

But Saturday – the day of Melanie’s wedding – Michael contracted pneumonia. His fever spiked his pressures and his brain swelled out of control. Sunday morning, surgeons removed part of his skull to allow for the swelling. On Monday, he had a CT scan to see how things were going post-op, and when the results came back, doctors discovered Michael had had a massive stroke sometime between the surgery and the scan.

The doctors say there is no hope of Michael regaining function. He is no longer responding to any stimuli. He is unable to breathe on his own. If he survives, he will be permanently vegetative. The family will make a decision tomorrow about life support.

Joey didn’t get the news until he landed back home in New York.

My dear friend is about to lose his second brother in less than a year. His mother is about to lose her second son, while she grapples with losing, in a different way, the girls she raised after their own mother committed suicide 30 years ago.

It’s far, far too much.

When he asked me for a reason on the phone yesterday, I could give him none. When he asked if God had a plan, all I could do was tell him I don’t believe in a God who does this to people on purpose. All I could do was tell him that we don’t find God in the tragedy; we find Him in the support of our friends and family when that tragedy occurs.

It seemed nowhere near enough comfort to give.

Joey and I are part of a very tight group of friends. When David died, he told us not to come. He felt it would be overwhelming, dealing with family and us there. He thought he would want to spend time with all of us and wouldn’t be able to, and that would upset him, and it was best if we didn’t come. But this time, he told me in great sobs, he’s calling in the chips. If there is a funeral, he wants us there. He said he doesn’t think he can do it this time.

And there was nothing I could say, other than, “We’ll be there.”

It’s not enough.

I think about how I would be if I lost one of my sisters, let alone two. I mean no exaggeration when I say I’m certain I would be on the floor for days. I would never, ever be the same. I would lose whole parts of me. I think of my friend, six years sober, just now beginning to realize how angry he is about the circumstances of his family’s life together and apart, feeling at once terrible and relieved to live hundreds of miles from them. When David died, it was the distance that helped him feel like he could move on. But it made him feel guilty, too. And now with Michael in a state of suspension, he’s struggling to figure out what to hope for… too anguished to think of a life without his brother, and too humane to think of keeping him alive without hope of recovery. He’s worried about his mother. He’s furious with his sisters.

And there is no reason for any of it.

But outside my window, all of it is more than reason enough for the rain.

It Appears My Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds

I have a huge problem with people who call out sick from work when they’re not actually sick, so they can just go off and have a good time somewhere. My similarly-lotted-in-life coworkers and I have been known to commiserate about it, because it almost always means that one of us has to step in for an extra shift and cover thanklessly for the jackwagon who decided to blow off work for the day, and generally it means the day will be more difficult for everyone.

That is, of course, except when the aforementioned jackwagon is me.

I won’t go into what had to be done on Sunday, but suffice it to say it was Very Important that I do this Thing, and somewhat less important that I do the work thing, even though I’m sure my coworkers would totally disagree. You see, the Thing I Had To Do on Sunday was something I didn’t know I was going to Have To Do until Thursday. Jack, knowing that I wanted to do the Thing, had gone to a little trouble to make it happen. And by then, it’s too late for me to ask for Sunday off.  My bosses would have said no unequivocally, and then I still would have Had To Do the Thing, and well, that just looks bad to everybody.

Especially since the Thing I Had To Do was kind of awesometastic and fun and Bucket List check-off-able and I had wanted to do it for like two years but wasn’t sure I’d be able to, rather than being bad, negative, unpleasant or otherwise grueling.

Like work would have been.

It involved public transportation and even that didn’t suck.

The thing is, I’m a terrible liar. And by that I mean that I usually feel myself giving it away with a facial tic or a surge in blood pressure that turns the skin on my chest all splotchy. I like that I’m an honest person, but damn if it doesn’t get in the way sometimes. Fortunately, when one calls out sick, one calls. On the phone. And when one is privy to the sick lists of each day at work, one knows what kinds of things are going around. And so one calls in on a Sunday morning without caring how splotchy it makes one’s skin and does an apparently very convincing job making the right people believe that one has the stomach flu.

It was almost too easy. Other than answering the inquisitive text messages from the three coworkers who got several phone calls asking them to come work for me on a Sunday (“Are you at work? I got two calls.” “Are you sick? They called me three times.” “What’s wrong? Work keeps calling me. Are you there?”) while I was in the middle of the Thing. I kept sort of looking around like I was being watched.

The key to calling out sick, really, is in the follow-up. I went to work Monday (yes, on Labor Day – I’m pretty sure I’ve worked every Labor Day for the last 14 years) and had to remember to play the Day After Stomach Flu thing. This basically means lying in one form or another all day long. It’s not like you can go grab something really yummy and kind of heavy to eat. You really can’t even have a salad, because when was the last time you wanted or could tolerate a salad the day after you were allegedly running to the bathroom a lot? That’s right, never. So the menu is really pretty limited, and of course you don’t have anything at home that you can bring in. Or at least, I didn’t, because chicken cacciatore and rosemary balsamic pork chops were not going to make the list of things that are edible the day after the stomach flu.

So here’s what I did to convince my coworkers that I really was sick on Sunday:

1. I stayed away from Facebook on Sunday.
I have lots of Facebook friends who are also coworkers. One of the most common things that gets you busted when you log a fake sick call is your Facebook activity. We grouse about it at work all the time: “Did you see his Facebook page? Hey, dumbass! You called out sick! At least have the sense to stay off Facebook!” It wasn’t hard for me to stay away from it Sunday because I wasn’t at home, but I also couldn’t post any of the pictures I took of the Thing. Which sort of killed me because I think a lot of people would have liked to have seen the pictures.

Stop it. I was fully clothed and there was no mud, creamed corn, jello or indecency of any kind involved.

2. I didn’t use bronzer when I put on my makeup.
I’m very white. Like, I could be a vampire in the Twilight series without need of whatever they put on Robert Pattison to make him look really pasty. So every day, I use bronzer after the pressed powder and before the blush, to give me a little color. But not this time. I decided I needed to get the ball rolling with the customary pallor so I didn’t look too vibrant and lovely. It totally worked. One of my coworkers told me I was pale.

3. I walked slowly.
You know how you don’t want to make any sudden moves when you’re sick to your stomach? You have to really take your time to convince anybody that you were retching and unable to eat just 24 hours ago. So I kicked my usual brisk walk down a couple notches. Nobody commented, but it’s the little things that sell the whole package.

4. I worked a dead-eye look.
Nothing says “I don’t really feel well” like a blank, droopy-lidded expression. When you can’t purposely make your eyes glassy, you have to deprive your face of any sign of animation or energy. Together with the paleness, it gets the job done. Three people who don’t work weekends and therefore didn’t know I’d called out on Sunday asked me if I was alright.

5. I ate nothing until dinner, and then I had soup.
I work nights, so I always eat dinner at work. I wanted something really delicious, but I sacrificed it for the cause, limply turning down an invitation to order Chinese (I wondered if it was a trap) so that I could “get some air” and walk a block and a half to get some chicken noodle soup. Or at least what was supposed to be chicken noodle soup. I learned very quickly that the place where I got it had changed their recipe for reasons passing understanding, and now it did not taste like life-giving chicken noodle soup at all. Rather, it tasted like vinegar and red pepper. Which means two things: A) I couldn’t eat it, in case others were familiar with the change and knew it wouldn’t sit well on a day-after stomach; and 2) I can’t eat it when I really am sick, either.

Lose-lose.

6. I stuck to the script.
While I was waiting for my crappy vinegar and red pepper chicken noodle soup, a coworker was in the same place waiting for his meal. He asked how I was feeling, and when I said I was better, he said, “Was it a sinus thing? You look a little…” and he drew a circle in the air around his eyes.

He had just managed to insult me after I faked illness.  But I stayed with the plan. “No, I know, it’s weird! I look sort of puffy around the eyes today! But no, it was my stomach.”

“Oh.”

I think he felt bad.

(And he was right; my eyes were a little puffy. I had been upset earlier in the day, and cried a fair bit – doesn’t matter why now – and the leftovers hung around. So trying to tell him the problem wasn’t in my eyes at all was like an extra lie.)

7. I pushed the guilt way, way down.
As soon as I walked into work, three of my coworkers asked how I was feeling. Convincing them that I had been sick was one thing. Listening to them say, “I know you wouldn’t have called out if you weren’t just absolutely dying” was another thing altogether. God love them; they really did believe me.

Maybe I’m a better liar than I thought.

I feel really bad about that.