These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For: One Woman’s Search For A New Phone

My phone crapped out on Sunday.

Truth be told, I should have seen it coming. The phone was 2 1/2 years old. I keep phones beyond the new-every-two eligibility date because I don’t like the idea of just tossing out a miniature computer because I feel like getting a new one. It’s my grandfather’s spirit alive within me, but my grandfather was kinda quiet so within me he’s blended with a hefty dose of The Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf. Point is, I had the phone a while, and I had drop-kicked it a time or 27 in those years, and that was starting to show. And it’s my only phone, because I joined the legions of people who have shunned landlines in favor of fewer bills. Saturday, while I was lost and trying to find my way to a violinist to rehearse the music for my cousin’s wedding, I learned that, as of exactly that morning, any attempt to use the web browser on my average-intelligence phone simply shut the whole operation down entirely. By Sunday, the touchscreen no longer sensed touch. I could answer a call, but I couldn’t place one.

Game over.

I solicited recommendations on Facebook and of course was met with an onslaught of “Get an iPhone!” I knew this would happen, but you see, I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to things everyone is doing. It took me forever to join the aforementioned legion of landline-rejectors. If everyone jumped off a bridge with their iPhones, I would simply use my outdated Garmin to navigate around the traffic jam they had caused by parking their cars on the bridge. I like to root for the underdog, and I feel like every phone and software company that’s not Apple is the underdog these days.

Alas, I walked into the Verizon store fully prepared to buy an iPhone, since, as one friend put it, “There’s a reason everyone says, ‘OMG I love my iPhone!’” As soon as I came in the door, I was attacked by two or three hungry salespeople (one of whom, I soon realized, actually wanted to push Verizon Fios on me, a conversation made more awkward by the fact that he was significantly hard of hearing and had a speech impediment as a result). After learning of the 25 minute wait, I sat on a bench until my name was first on the screen of people being served – like at a deli, only with names instead of numbers, which I don’t like. I don’t like a bunch of strangers in a store that sells GPS-tracking mobile communication systems knowing my name. (Side effect of Stalker Syndrome).

You have no choice, really. Your phone is dead and your mother simultaneously landed in the hospital because she fell at the ice cream parlor and whacked her head on the ground and gave herself a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and also traumatized her grandsons, all in the name of two scoops of Rocky Road, which she shouldn’t be eating anyway because she’s teetering on the edge of Wilford Brimleyitis (true story – she’s fine now and I plan on blaming every ridiculous thing she ever says in the future on her head injury), and so you need a new phone.

Do you know how hard it is to sit somewhere and wait for something for 25 minutes when your phone is broken and you are therefore cut off from the world entirely?

(That was irony.)

When the salesguy got to me, he made quick work of dispensing with the idea of an iPhone. I know – how is that possible? Well, I didn’t want the iPhone 4S – at $170, there was no way in hell. The 5 is coming out next month, which means any price I would have paid for any iPhone would be too much come the release of the 5. So the salesguy steered me to the Samsung Galaxy 3S, another smartphone that’s the highest quality they sell (he says). But it had a $200 pricetag. No go.

So we lit on the LG Lucid, a Droid phone boasting 4G compatibility. iPhones are all 3G, and Verizon is switching its network over to 4G. That means conceivably (I was told), when that switchover is complete, the Lucid will be better supported than the iPhone.

The Droid, he said, can do all the things an iPhone can do, if not more. In fact, I’ve heard tell that there’s no limit to what Droid can do. The salesguy said the Lucid Droid has talk-to-text — something the iPhone 4 does not have (the 4S does). Hmm, thought I. Helpful, given how much I drive. And text. The Lucid Droid has tons of free apps made for both it and the iPhone, so I’m not losing out on that at all. And it even does FaceTime, except it calls it Tango, which is a free download for anybody with any kind of smartphone. So my brother-in-law can’t give me crap about not getting an iPhone for purposes of video chatting with Twin Nephs. Interesting. 

But… but… everyone says the iPhone is better. Everyone says it’s awesome.

Oh, he Lucid is fifty bucks?

Sold.

Bonuses: LGs are great products, insurance is cheaper, deductible is cheaper, no upgrade required on my service contract and it’s a more durable phone if I, say, drop-kick it a time or 27 while I own it.

Ninety minutes after walking in and trying to learn sign language to talk to the cable rep, I walked out with a gizmo that probably could have done it for me, plus its cover and a car speaker for hands-free happiness. I had to immediately go to work, so apart from using it to call my father and find out how my mother’s brain was doing, I didn’t get to play with the phone much. But late in the night, I got to talk to the coworker everyone had told me was the guru of all things Droid.

He was. He was like Obi-Wan Kenobi to my R2D2. And he was my only hope. Since everyone else had an iPhone and didn’t speak Droid.

He taught me all kinds of handy stuff, like, um, how to get it to make a call. Also how to aggregate similarly-themed apps (news apps, entertainment apps, etc) into folders to keep in one central location rather than paging through my apps all the time. He recommended really good apps. He showed me the Google voice bar, which I can talk to and basically get the phone to do everything from sending a text to navigating to making lasagna from scratch. So what, I didn’t know how to find my text messages by the time I had to leave?

Once I figure that out, I’m gonna program it to beam Wilford Brimley into my mother’s kitchen to yell “Diabeetus!” every time she picks up something she shouldn’t eat.

In Which I Have (Almost) No Real New Things To Say

Plant Matter
Update: I got a call from my stupid apartment management company’s property manager, who was very nice and I think believed me when I said I hadn’t received a letter from her because I don’t get my mail at my address. (It’s true, I don’t. But I did get the letter. I just ignored it.) Anyway, she said she hated to make the call and she herself thinks it’s dumb, and then, sotto voce, “can you go buy some tables and bring me the receipt and I’ll take care of it?”

Well. That’s hard to argue.

She set a limit of $30. My plants are now sitting on overturned storage cubes stacked three-high. I don’t like them, but whatever. I can use them for other stuff later, or give them away. They’re also about four inches too short, so I still need a way to boost the plants to exactly the height of the railing and thumb my nose.

“Don’t tell your neighbor we’re doing this,” she said to me.

Oh, I’m totally telling the neighbor.

The Proper Way To Have A Car Accident
Update: The car has been repaired without argument of any kind from anybody. I continue to be amazed at this. Oh, except for one quibble…

Me to car shop guy: “Everything looks great. Just one thing: there’s a V6 decal on the bumper, and my car’s not a V6.”

Car shop guy: “But we got that off your car.”

Me: “No, my car’s not a V6.”

Car shop guy: “We got that off your car!”

Me: “Nnnnooo, you got that off someone else’s car.”

Car shop guy: “That decal came off your car. I have pictures. Pictures never lie.”

Me (getting testy): Sir, I’ve had the car for six and a half years. It’s not a V6.”

Car shop guy (looking at pictures): “…Well this is embarrassing.”

They fixed it.

Paradox
Update: Still pissed at Jack.

That is all.

Awe-Inspiring. Not In A Good Way
Update: Still pissed at Rep. Akin for being a fucktard who doesn’t know A) where babies come from, and 2) that there is no distinction between “legitimate” rape and any other kind. Except now actually more pissed, because he got defensive about four hours after his allegedly heartfelt apology and insisted he had only used one wrong word in one sentence, one time. When in reality, he used bunches of wrong words in three sentences, all strung together, which he continues to mostly defend except for the part about rape maybe not totally sucking. Which he’s still, frankly, a little dodgy on. Meanwhile…

Theater of the Absurd
Update: …the election conversation has gotten caught up in the debate over abortion and rape, and there are people who find this “distracting.” Well, I find that insulting. Because there are, in fact, other issues in the country than the economy, and those issues must be dealt with as well, and when lawmakers are arguably closer than ever to repealing Roe v. Wade (which I don’t think will actually happen for all sorts of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try really hard) and they’d staked their hopes of regaining control of the Senate in large part on Rep. Akin’s presumed win over Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri, the country needs to talk about abortion and rape. Especially since Rep. Akin co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Paul Ryan and — wait for it — more than 100 other congressional representatives (list below if you’re curious) that used the phrase “forcible rape” as an exception to abortion law. The bill never defines what “forcible” means.

I do not make my position on abortion clear, one way or another, on this blog. But the reason I find this important to talk about is that implying that a rape need be “forcible” in order to validate a woman’s desire for an abortion throws the burden of responsibility for the rape back on the woman. She must now prove her attack was forcible in order for it to “count.” Well, by definition, rape is the act of sexual penetration against the victim’s will. Pretty much means they were forced. What qualifies as “forcible?” Weapons? What about bare hands around her throat? What if there are no weapons but the guy says he’ll kill her if she doesn’t comply? What if she freezes? What if she can’t scream? What if her boyfriend does it? What if it was her husband?

Telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies is one thing. Telling them what men can and can’t do to their bodies is another.

I’ve never been raped. Thank God. But I did have a stalker, who I couldn’t identify, and who had access to my building. And I can tell you this: every night, when I came home, I knew he might be inside the building, waiting for me. And I thought about what would happen if he came up from behind and shoved me inside when I opened my apartment door. I thought about what might be the best ways to get away. I thought about how I might be able to fight him off. I thought about whether I should take a different tack if he had a gun, or a knife, or if he tried to strangle me, or if he just said he’d kill me. Or even if he didn’t threaten my life at all.

No one should ever have to explain to the government why her rape was “forcible.”

And no lawmaker should ever think she should.

********
Co-sponsors of the original version of H.R. 3, in which “forcible” rape is required:
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr3

Note: at the bottom are listed those who joined the bill after its first version. The word “forcible” was removed after the first version. Also note: this bill deals with federal funding for abortion, which may explain some representatives’ reasons for signing on.

 

Awe-Inspiring. Not In A Good Way.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Self, how much stupidity can one fit into three sentences?”

I think I have the answer. Check out what a congressman said when an interviewer asked him whether abortion should be legal if a woman’s pregnancy was caused by rape.

“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something.”

~Rep. Todd Akin
(R) Missouri 2nd District

Wwwwwwow.

I don’t…

I don’t even…

I can’t…

Sigh.

Okay.

Okay, here I go.

The first time I read this quote, I was outraged. Well, alright, first I had a fit of apoplexy. Then I was outraged. Then I re-read it a few times to make sure I didn’t misunderstand because, I mean, obviously this is a completely fantastical thing to say, so there’s no way that a member of the US House of Representatives could actually say it, right? And then I saw the interview clip (because I went looking for it) and there it was, right there in color on my computer. He really said it. Those words. In that order. Aloud. On television. Not taken even a teensy bit out of context, though possibly in the form of two sentences rather than three, depending on how it’s punctuated.

By the way, this guy? This guy is a six-term congressman in the House, currently serving as a lawmaker on Capitol Hill, and presently leading polls to unseat Senator Claire McCaskill for an office on the other side of the big white building that’s not the White House or the Treasury Department or – thank God – the Supreme Court.

And I’m putting aside his actual answer about whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape, because that’s not even the point in the situation we have here.

“From doctors?” What the hell doctors are you talking to? Dr. Seuss knows that’s the most ridiculous thing anybody has ever said out loud. Dr. Dre knows it’s asinine. Dr. Pepper knows you’re a moron. You’re, like, 23 flavors of moron. You actually are the Dr. Pepper of Morons.

“If it’s a legitimate rape…?” These five words alone blow my mind. If…legitimate… Congressman, can you please define “illegitimate” rape? I honestly don’t know his answer, but I’d guess – and it’s just a guess – he might go beyond the deplorable false accusations that some people make. I’m guessing -only guessing – he doesn’t think there’s really such a thing as marital rape, or date rape. So, ipso facto, if a woman is pregnant, and says she was raped… she’s lying.

Or she liked it.

Because, according to the doctors this guy’s been talking to, there’s some sort of magical force-field that goes up in a woman’s body when she doesn’t… what?… at least marginally tolerate what’s happening to her.

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something.” Oh, yes, let’s. Let’s assume, you know, for the sake of argument, just to play devil’s advocate, that the magical force-field of conception prevention in the case of legitimate rape is on the fritz. That the flux capacitor has stopped fluxing. Let’s assume that for now.

I’m just going to say it. Normally I’m all about showing respect for elected leaders whether we agree with them or not, but in this case, I don’t think that personal rule need apply, so I’m going to say it: You, sir, are a fucktard.

There’s really not a better word for it. No, really. Think about it for a few minutes. I thought about it for hours, and I couldn’t come up with a better word for it.

And why do you suppose this 65-year-old man thinks this is how reproduction works? Because babies can only come from love? Because his mommy told him that, when a man and a woman love each other very much, they share a special hug, and that’s where babies come from?

Clearly that’s it.

Hours after the interview was released, Rep. Akin issued a statement.

Ready?

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

He misspoke. In his off-the-cuff remarks. Because his idiocy is merely the result of extemporaneous speech.

And clearly he holds very deep empathy for rape victims. If it’s legitimate.

And what he really meant to say was “Please pass the salt.”

I know how he feels. I hate it when I misspeak and say, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, if you have a heart attack but you don’t really want to die, it’ll go away,” when what I really mean is, “Heart attack symptoms are very serious and require immediate medical attention.”

Hey, Missourians. Is this a “legitimate” candidate?

Paradox

Danger: torturous honesty ahead. This post will either kill your soul or make you want to smack me. I hereby apologize to the new subscribers I’ve picked up as a product of my last political post being Freshly Pressed. This post might leave you Freshly Depressed. Orientation: I write about all kinds of stuff, depending on where I am in my head on a given day. Normally I’m much funnier. And I will be again, and it won’t be fake or anything. Don’t feel like you can’t believe my irrepressible wit and snark just because this post exposes one of the reasons I’m witty and snarky in my real life.

End disclaimer.

*******

“What remains of your past if you didn’t allow yourself to feel it in the moment?”

David Rakoff wrote that. He just passed away at the age of 47 – the age he had previously thought he had been born to be. It was the sentiment he used to describe his tendency to avoid intimacy – not the sexual kind, no, the emotional kind – by using humor. It’s how he described the irony of wanting to be known without anyone knowing that which he liked least about himself.

Guardedness is, to some degree, natural. But I’ve always been more guarded than most. I’ve mentioned before that my intention in starting this blog was at least partly to be less guarded and more “out there” with how I feel about things. As is inevitable with me, I turned a lot of it into wry comedy. Well, that’s genuine. That is me. It’s more fun, it’s more appealing, and I tend to laugh at a lot of things in life, or at least employ biting sarcasm. But I haven’t generally allowed myself to be less guarded. I’ve done it in a few posts (to some readers’ alarm). But mostly, I had hit on a formula that made people laugh, that made people comment, that made people hit the “like” button so their shining faces and icons would line up neatly in a row (or two, now that I’ve finally been FP’d) at the bottom of my text. It made people like me. I’m Sally Field, over here.

I am, truly, a pretty twisted sister with a sick sense of humor. In my real life, I tend to be awfully intense if I’m not making jokes. I’m not one of those obnoxious people who is always on and never shuts up, like Robin Williams. You don’t listen to me and immediately think, “She’s covering something up with her humor.” I just happen to be pretty quick with a quip. But yeah, I’m intense if I’m not joking. Like, it’s got the potential to freak people out. My friend Joey once said he thinks I feel things more deeply than most people do. Joey, by the way, is a playwright in New York whose two younger brothers died, less than a year apart, in auto accidents, and whose two stepsisters no longer speak to the family because they’re suing his mother over their late half-brother’s trust, which was bequeathed when their father – Joey’s stepfather – shot himself in the head 11 years ago. Joey is also a recovering alcoholic. And gay. So for him to say I feel things more deeply than most people do… Oy. I didn’t know – still don’t – if that’s true, but I worry that it is. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s a miracle I still have both my ears. (Somewhere, Vincent Van Gogh just cocked his head and said, “What?”)

How do you balance wanting to be just like everyone else with wanting to be unlike anyone else?

Jack ran his Iceland marathon with Gwyneth today. I woke up for no reason at 7:30am and immediately wondered if I were somehow psychically connected to him. What time is it in Reykjavik? I had no idea. Maybe they just finished…?

Why do I care?

When I read the Facebook post about how the run had gone, I bristled as soon as my eyes lit on the word “we.” “We.” Since when do you use that word, Jack? In ten years I don’t think I’ve ever heard you or seen you use that word. You’ve performed linguistic gymnastics- with stunning ease- to avoid using it. Now you’re playing it fast and loose like it’s nothing, like you’ve used it every day about everybody since time immemorial, and you claim it’s completely meaningless. “We finished in 3:31:53, a personal best for Gwyneth in her seven-marathon career.” 

Okay, first of all, you know what? Fuck her personal best. Fuck her seven marathons. Your Facebook friends don’t even know her, except for seven of us who have worked with her. Why should the other 190 even care about how she ran? “We finished in 3:31:53.” You had to cross the finish line together? Why can’t you run your own damned race? You could have finished faster, I know it. You let her slow you down.

So he could be her hero. So he could be there for her. Step by step. “Just running buddies.” We.

It enraged me.

Which makes, by the way, absolutely no logical sense whatsoever. I mean… they were just… running.

And that’s the kind of stuff I generally suppress. I don’t allow myself to feel that kind of senseless anger, or any sort of knee-jerk emotion, without stopping, figuring out why I feel it, and then massaging the less comfortable parts of it away like so much muscle pain. I think it’s the grown-up way to handle one’s proverbial shit. But thanks to Ali Velshi, my new therapist, I’m assigned to try embracing the knee-jerk a little more. Oh, joy. His point: my tendency to suppress my feelings is usually because I want to be “fair” to the person to whom I’m reacting, even when they’re not around. I’m assuming, he says, about 70% of the responsibility for that which is only 50% mine to bear. What about what’s fair to me?

For the record, I didn’t comment on the Facebook post, for two reasons. One: all I could think to say was something nasty and low, and even though I’m supposed to stop caring so much about what’s fair to someone else, I am an adult in my mid-30s and I was still raised not to be a total immature snot. And also because (okay, mostly because) if I had commented, or even clicked “like,” (which herein would become merely a twitch of support rather than an actual tacit approval of all the words Jack had used), I would have been exposed, over and over, to every comment anyone else would make, thereby forcing me to reread the post any number of times to make the stupid red notices on the screen go away, thereby making me bang my head on the desk exactly that many times.

I didn’t cry. I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt. I let myself feel whatever it was without knowing what it was. I bent forward in the shower, stretching my back, letting the hot water sluice over me, my mind a dull, nonspecific ache of getting ready for my day while letting go of a never-defined relationship in which I had loved someone more than I ever had before, trusted him more than I’d ever trusted anyone before, while never quite letting him see all my flaws because I knew they would scare him away.

Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness – a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self, which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair – then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person you’d hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow-barker variation on adorable, even though you’d been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one – well, it conjures up feelings that are best described as mixed, to say the least.

~David Rakoff, “Half Empty”

mary poppins

Is Julie Andrews This Unstable?

I want to watch a Disney movie.

It’s a cloudy day and I can’t decide whether I like that fact or not, because it’s also not hot as blazes outside and it’s just the kind of weather you need to take it down a notch. I took a mental health day from work so I could not drive anywhere and sit around in yoga pants and a t-shirt all day. Yeah, I only had one more day to go until my “weekend,” but I was crabby on Saturday (my Monday) and had reached the point of banging my head on my keyboard by Actual Monday. That was because one of my (six) bosses, who can’t manage his own hair, let alone anything else, kept constantly obsessing in his unfortunately irritating voice and yelling over my head to another co-worker. The one who never stops talking, speaks in super-loud volume using unending malapropisms and very bad words, and, when he does stop talking, starts beat-boxing or singing. This went on for six hours. In an email exchange with a friend who asked how the day was going, I replied, “Everyone is annoying. How are you?” (The great thing about her is that she routinely gets fed up with humanity and declares, “I hate everyone,” so I knew she’d get it.)  By Tuesday and complaints from a coworker about something I’d done correctly, I’d about had it. I was openly threatening to throw things at their heads. So really, it was better for everyone’s safety if I didn’t go to work today.

And now I want to watch Mary Poppins.

Generally, this means one thing: I need a soul hug. I need a vacation, too  - a week away from long commutes and irritating co-workers and low morale and the daily routine, somewhere pleasant and beachy with alcoholic beverages I drink no matter how much they cost. I haven’t had a vacation in over a year. But a hankering for a Disney film means I need soothing.

Jack, it may come as no surprise, probably figures into this. He left today for the marathon in Iceland with Gwyneth. And while I’m actually not at all consciously upset about it and am in fact rather amused that a blob of earth called Iceland is volcanically active, I’m sure there’s some inner turmoil. We don’t talk much now (Jack and I, not Iceland and I – that place has frankly never returned my calls), and Iceland has become a symbol to me of everything that went downhill with him since January. I hate an entire landmass for emotional reasons.

Not wild about Gwyneth Paltrow, either. But she bugs a lot of people.

Sure, I could eat french fries covered in cheese and bacon. That’s about the only thing I haven’t tried in the last few days, if I think about it. Last night it was uh-may-zingly rich lasagna. Day before was a giant chicken salad sandwich with cheese, held together by delicious full-fat mayo, which stayed with me for so long I felt like I was still digesting it the next morning. Sunday was barbecued babyback ribs and mac & cheese. Damn, I’ve been throwing comfort food down my gullet all week, now that I think about it. And, of course, has that helped? Not really. Only thing it’s done is made me gain three pounds. So today I’m being good and dinner tonight will be shrimp so I can at least feel better about the size of my stomach.

Still debating throwing together a blueberry pie, though. Is that bad?

Good thing Disney hasn’t set any movies in Iceland.

glenn beck book

Theater of the Absurd

It’s been a minute since I wrote up my thoughts on the presidential campaign. I thought I’d post about it now to let you know that this? This nonsense that’s been going on? This is why I think it’s important to pay attention to the primaries.

The primaries are where the real substance of the campaigns happen, regardless of which party is holding them. After the primaries, when the field is narrowed to one candidate from each side, that’s when all the meaningless, stupid, petty, shallow, dumb-ass mudslinging starts. And that’s the only thing most people see. No wonder they hate presidential elections.

I suppose one could argue that it’s a flaw in the system, that the real substance of the debates should continue when everyone is forced to pay attention. But by then, really, the candidates are just trying to get the majority of Americans to know their names and a few catch phrases that are easy to remember in a voting booth. Sure, it’s insulting, but it’s also effective because they’re appealing to the lowest common denominator who don’t really care about the substance as much as they say they do. If they did, they would have paid attention to the primaries.

Or at least read my blog about them. (Check out the Political Snark category for more stuff with which you can enthusiastically agree or disdainfully disagree. Or, if you stumbled drunkenly into this post, there are other categories you might hate less.)

Yet and still, it seems that this time around, the candidates have really missed the mark on each other.

What Pres. Obama is doing wrong
President Obama’s camp keeps doubling down about Romney’s taxes and his wealth while never striking at the heart of the matter. Nobody cares that Mitt Romney is rich. Good for him. What people care about is whether Mitt Romney has any idea what it’s like not to be rich. And he seems to have demonstrated several times that, in fact, he does not. The president doesn’t have to replay Romney’s gaffes; he only has to make it clear to voters that Romney doesn’t know what it is to be middle-class or poor, so how could they trust him to make sure they don’t suffer under his economic policies, should he ever care to share them? That’s what the Obama campaign should be pushing. Instead they’re wandering around in these woods of “did he pay taxes?” and Sen. Harry Reid is going off half-cocked on the floor. It’s silly.

The president needs to stop blaming Pres. Bush for everything. He was right to do it from 2007 until maybe 2010 or so. After that, it’s time to own it. The people who were upset with Pres. Bush and his policies, who blame him for the situation Pres. Obama inherited, still remember that. The president need not remind them of that. The president needs to start appearing to take responsibility and carry a mantle.

They need to get Vice-President Biden to stop saying stupid stuff. You can’t tell voters in Southern Virginia that Mitt Romney would put them “back in chains.” Full stop.

They need to talk more about what they’ve done right. Fine, a lot of people hated part of the women’s care provision in the Affordable Care Act. (I didn’t happen to love that part, either.) But there is a lot in the Affordable Care Act (that’s its actual name) that is good, and not just the coverage for adult children or the end of exclusion for pre-existing conditions. Beat those drums. Beat the drum of national security. Beat the drum of education improvement. Beat the drum of a better image around the world. They’re getting all of that wrong.

What they’re getting right is beating the drum of 28 consecutive months of economic growth. But they aren’t really following through. They need to drive home the factual question mark about what happens if the country changes horses now. The factual question mark, not the emotional one. Emotional appeals, while hugely popular in campaigns, are hollow and see-through to those who have been paying attention.

What Mitt Romney is doing wrong
Well, for starters, he’s making an ass out of himself all over the place. I don’t mean that disrespectfully. But he managed to piss off Israel and the Palestinians at the same time. It may have demonstrated the first time those two sides have agreed on anything, which is phenomenal, but it’s not good. He got off the plane in London and immediately said they weren’t ready for the Olympics, which was just stupid on a lot of levels – and also, turned out, incorrect. In Poland, his aide swore at a reporter and in the same breath called the place where they were standing a holy site. This was Romney on the world stage, and it wasn’t pretty.

It is still, all these months later, difficult to know what Mitt Romney stands for. Those who will vote for him seem more interested in voting against Pres. Obama, or in voting for the theoretical principles of the Republican Party, than in voting for Mitt Romney. While I get that, it’s not enough to sway those who feel something less than hatred at having Obama as president. Romney has been too vague. In comparison, Rick Santorum in the primaries made a lot of his ideas very clear: specifics on how to change corporate taxation to bring about more manufacturing, leading to a better business environment, more exports and more jobs, for example. Romney just says “we need more jobs.” He somehow manages to cross messages, shouting that government doesn’t create jobs, and then arguing that if he were president, he’d create more jobs. Wha…?

He doesn’t take a firm stand on anything, ever. Maybe that’s because he’s seen it burn President Obama (see: unemployment). But, for example, when he talks about energy, he says in the same sentence that we’re using too much oil and we should drill for more here. Those points seem contradictory. When a radio host called a college grad student a slut for advocating for birth control availability, Romney moused that “those weren’t the words” he would use. If you can’t take a hard line about whether it’s appropriate to call that woman a slut several times on national radio, what can you take a hard line about?

He still comes off as stiff at worst, forcing it at best. He seems insincere. He seems uncomfortable. He seems only to know that which he’s heard anecdotally about the world of the unwealthy. He’s still Thurston Howell the Third to everyone else’s NASCAR Nation. And if this makes him better for the job, he’s not demonstrating that. Yes, Mitt Romney can stump for years on how President Obama hasn’t delivered on promises about unemployment or the economy, and that’s true. He was a fool for having made those promises to begin with. But Mr. Romney has run on words that gloss over issues and make it sound like he’s articulating an idea. Romney has run his entire race on the theory that the election is just a referendum on President Obama, and he need not do anything else.

Until he realized he needed to do something else. That’s when he picked Paul Ryan to run as vice-president.

Ryan doesn’t help make up any undecided voters’ minds. So what’s the point? I think the GOP is worried that people will stay home on November 6th. Ryan will galvanize Tea Partiers who were lukewarm about Romney and maybe independents who didn’t think either candidate was firm enough on anything; he lends numbers and solid plans to a candidate who lacks both on the economy. And Ryan helps with states like Florida, which could mean more electoral votes for Romney. From now until the convention, the two men will not appear together. They’re dividing to conquer, which allows Ryan to go places where Romney alienates people. (The interesting thing about Ryan helping in Florida is that his budget plan calls for a $700 billion reduction in Medicare. Coincidentally, so does Obama’s.)

Make no mistake: the selection of Paul Ryan was a move to the far-right. The less flashy, more moderate picks would have been Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. But, like the campaign of 2008, the GOP needs energy. Like the campaign of 2008, they have disregarded the qualifier of whether the VP could actually be president and gone with the person who’d be sexier for the campaign. All that remains to be seen – besides endless attack ads – is who Americans can stomach the best.

Plant Matter

I’m in a fight with the apartment management company about plants.

Well, right now it’s sort of a polite quibble. It could escalate to a bit of a pissing match, after which it might become a fight.

In May, I went out and dropped $90 on some lovely flowering, cascading plants for my balcony. I have managed to keep them alive regularly salvage them from death thus far in the season, despite numerous days in the 100-degree range. I feel I should be commended for this. In the spirit of the current sporting events, a medal of some kind might be appropriate.

Setting that aside, a few weeks ago my neighbors found flyers in front of their doors asking them to please take their beautiful flowering plants off the balcony railings for fear that they might fall off and hit someone. Seriously, that’s what they said.

I didn’t get a notice.

Neener, neener, neener.

Eventually, though, I did, and I promptly ignored it, and so did my neighbors, because it’s dumb. But as “it’s dumb” is not a strong legal argument, I do have several others: there is nothing in the lease conditions or terms that says I can’t have the plants; I had them last year without a complaint from the managers; I have quintuple the liability coverage of the amount recently required for renter’s insurance; the likelihood that the damned 10-lb. plants are going to fall off the 5″ wide railing and hit David or Phyllis below as they just happen to walk out to attend shul on a Friday night are tremendously long; as is happenstance, this is exactly the sort of thing liability insurance is for; I paid $90 for the plants and the company is not willing to compensate me, nor is the company willing to compensate me for the tables or stands they’ve suggested I purchase in order not to put the plants to waste.

Also? It’s dumb.

I admit that some of the above arguments are stronger than others, and I admit that I’m being a bit cantankerous about the whole thing, really just for my personal amusement.  I’ll probably comply eventually. But taken as a whole, it’s difficult to argue against me. I mean what exactly is the purpose of having a suddenly-required minimum of $100,000 in renter’s liability insurance (I have $500K) if you’re not allowed to do anything that might one day freakishly result in someone getting a bump on the noggin?

You know where this all comes from, don’t you?

The derecho.

A storm so freakish that no one had ever heard of it before came plowing through nine states at the end of June and, if we follow the apparently immutable logic of apartment rental companies, somebody somewhere got hit by a falling plant, and therefore everyone must immediately surrender their lovely foliage in favor of stark, barren surfaces.

What is this, Russia?

No! This is America! And in this country, we have plants, dammit! We have plants and we have insurance, and we pay for both, and you can’t take them away! Not from our cold, dead hands!

Clinging to guns and vegetation. Say, Mr. Heston actually is cold and dead these days. Anybody tried to take that rifle out of his hands? 

Interestingly, do you know what derecho means in Spanish?

It means right. As in, it is my derecho to have plants on my balcony railing since you people just made up this new policy like five minutes ago because you’re a bunch of scaredy-cats.

But seriously, I ask you: what’s next? If you want to come around after a freak windstorm and say nobody can have plants on their balcony railings anymore, what comes next? Somebody fell asleep and now nobody can have candles? Somebody’s lights went haywire and now nobody can have Christmas trees anymore? Somebody sneezed on their balcony and inadvertently spit on someone and now nobody can have allergies anymore? Somebody’s flamethrower misfired and now nobody can have flamethrowers anymore?

You see what I’m saying.

So, while I look for tables that are exactly the same height as my balcony railing so as to allow myself and passersby to enjoy my lovely flowering cascading plants (and so as to thumb my nose at the management company a tiny bit), available for  free or close to it, the quibble continues.  My neighbors are apparently in silent allegiance. The vigil goes on. Operation Petunia is in full effect. Next mission: cocktail hour on the balcony. Where I can enjoy my plants.

 

History In the Making

I used to think my grandparents had lived through amazing times in history.

Now I’ve realized I have, too.

On my days off last week, I watched hours of the Olympics. They are, among other things, a fantastic way to pass time. It goes faster when you watch the Games, I’m pretty sure. Then on Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday morning, I watched the newest episode of “The Newsroom,” which dealt with the night Osama bin Laden was killed. I won’t say where I was or what I was doing that night, but in sum, there are a lot of reasons I’ll never forget it. (No, it wasn’t dirty. Geez, people.) I happened to finish the episode on my laptop at 1:30am, the perfect time to flip on the TV and watch the rover Curiosity land on Mars. Live.

Ho-hum.

It has struck me over and over in the last week or two that we are constantly witnesses to astounding things. So constantly, in fact, that we have become impervious to them. That’s what makes us, sadly, so different from the Greatest Generation. We have lost so much of our ability to be amazed and humbled.

I am typing this - typing it – on a laptop computer no heavier than the slab of ribs I’m defrosting in the kitchen. This laptop can bring me live images of something happening literally a world away. My phone, connected to no wires and requiring me to stay in no perimeter (unlike the days when I was frustrated that the phone cord didn’t reach into the dining room from the kitchen), contains almost as much data processing hardware as the laptop does, but is a fraction of the size.  On either of them, I am able to communicate instantly with friends as close as the next room and as far as Australia and Hong Kong. I can even see them, if I choose.

“The Newsroom” begins each episode with a theme montage that features, first in a series of images, and old-timey satellite soaring through space. Just the fact that there is such a thing as an old-timey satellite is sort of mind-blowing.

These things are parts of our everyday life now. We barely notice.

But for some reason, the confluence of recent events has my mind on a different track. I’m grateful that knowing my grandparents and their experiences as I did has taught me an appreciation for history as it happens. I have parlayed that appreciation into other elements of my life. And so at a time when the Olympics converge with the Mars Curiosity landing, an epic (if nearly intolerable) presidential campaign, a global economic crisis and a chaotic assimilation to endless social media, sometimes I just have to stop, look around, and catch my breath.

Those of us who weren’t awake for it may not have reacted much to the Curiosity landing. After all, it’s not the first time we’ve landed something on Mars. The Opportunity is still there, you know, roving. But this was the first time we landed something the size of a car there, without any real testing to see if the whole thing would actually work. It did. It landed perfectly in the perfect spot, unbroken to our knowledge. Within seconds of watching the live reaction from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to the news that Curiosity had successfully touched down after what NASA had termed “seven minutes of terror” for its landing sequence, that thing was beaming back images of the planet it was on. Sending pictures through space of a planet none of us have ever set foot on.

Why is that not every bit as awe-inspiring as when we sent men to walk on the moon?

In 35 years, I have lived through the return from an oil embargo; the election of a Hollywood movie star as president; the invasion of Grenada; the Iran-Contra affair; the war in the Persian Gulf; massive world-changing earthquakes in California, Japan, China, Indonesia and Haiti; Hurricane Katrina; the World Trade Center bombing (1993); the Oklahoma City bombing; September 11th; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the impeachment of a president; the election of an African-American as president; the appointments of the first and second African-American Secretaries of State; appointments of the first, second and third female Secretaries of State; the dissolving of the Soviet Union; the destruction of the Berlin Wall; the Velvet Revolution in Poland; the protest in Tienanmen Square; the Occupy Movement; the Arab Spring and similar uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya and Iran; countless space missions, landings and discoveries, including the International Space Station in cooperation with the Russians we previously tried desperately to humiliate in the Space Race; the dawn of the personal computer; video cameras (Beta/VHS/digital); the invention of the internet; laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, cell phone cameras, the microwave, answering machines, voicemail, Facetime and Skype, Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, dating sites, Twitter and innumerable other technological marvels; the turn of a century that once seemed only fantasy (without computer meltdown); the arrival of unfathomable diseases and the cures and effective treatments for so many more; pet microchipping; heart valve replacements; artificial hearts; lifelike prostheses; cars that park themselves…

I could go on and on.

And yes, some of these things exist now only to make our lives easier and allow us to be lazier. We may mutter that it would have been better if they’d never been invented at all.

But watching the Olympics… watching people of every race and nation break down in tears at the triumph of victory and the pain of defeat, watching pride and heartbreak combine, watching people do things I could never, ever do… I find myself cheering for every single athlete, every single time. I don’t care that they’re from China or Russia or Korea. I don’t care that they come from a country diametrically opposed to mine. I don’t care that, by and large, we view their nation’s people as threats to ours. Because when they are united in competition and congratulations as individuals, each with a story, each with a suffering, each with hopes and fears and families they have loved and perhaps lost, it is never more clear that we are all the same. I cry when they cry. I cheer when they cheer. Watching the Curiosity land on Mars, it is undeniable that, everywhere on this planet, every person is subject to the life-ending fragilities and immortalizing strengths of the human condition.

What these things, all these histories I have lived through, show is that we as a species crave and strive for purpose, understanding and unity. What almost all of these things do is bring us together, search for life, and sustain life.

I watched a room full of geniuses at NASA’s JPL jump up and down, cry and cheer endlessly over what had been accomplished at 1:31am Eastern Daylight Time on Monday morning when they learned that all their work over 12 years had finally landed on Mars. On Tuesday, I watched an entire Olympic stadium full of people from all over the world roar their heart-swelling support for a Dominican runner who sobbed on the first place podium after kissing his grandmother’s photo on the track where he’d just become the fastest man to run the 400-meter hurdles.

I watched history unfold, with the common strings of pride and sacrifice uniting the planet, and discovering another one.

And I am still amazed.

*******
Video worth watching:
Felix Sanchez’s Olympic Gold Medal Ceremony
http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/track-and-field/highlights-mens-400m-hurdles-medal-ceremony.html

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, Monday, 1:31am EDT/10:31pm PDT
http://www.nasa.gov/mp4/673828main_curiosity.mp4

The Proper Way To Have A Car Accident

Last night I was minding my own business, driving through town on my way home via a neighborhood where Hottie McHousehunter wants to see houses tomorrow, when I had to stop at a light. I’ll admit I had to stop a little faster than I generally like… just one of those traffic things that sometimes happens. I was still well clear of the car in front of me, but whenever I have to lay on the brakes a little harder than usual, I tend to check the rearview for signs of impending doom from behind.

Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuunnnnn!!!

Yes, there it was: a mini-van coming right at me. I had enough time to think, He’s going to hit me. Well, maybe not…. Yep. He is.

He did.

Fortunately, I also had enough time to make sure I wasn’t sitting in an awkward position and tell myself not to tense up too much so my well-documented (in these annals) spinal issues would be minimized. When the slam came (I’d guess he was at about 15 mph when he hit me) my head did bounce from the headrest, but not too terribly hard, and I didn’t get shoved into the car in front of me – something else I had had time to worry about.

We all (he had passengers) sort of sat there for a few seconds, watching each other, before I finally threw the car in park, hit the flashers and got out. Then he got out. We exchanged “You okay?” questions and then went about the business of inspecting our vehicles. Good amount of damage to each. This was no “bump.” His grill was in pieces, some of which had skidded under the back of my car. His passenger side headlight was broken, and his hood was lipped a bit over its proper place. My bumper was scuffed, scratched and generally ugly all over the place, and the driver’s side of it had popped free of its anchoring. But there were no cracks or dents that I could see. And the trunk still released and closed without a problem.

“I’m sorry,” the other driver said, breaking what my father had told me as a teen was the first rule of an accident: never admit fault. Clearly when you rear-end someone at a stoplight, it’s your fault, but you still don’t say it. I was impressed with this guy’s willingness to ‘fess up. I was also pretty happy with how my car had held up, actually. Not that it’s not going to cost $1200 or so to fix. Easy.

By the time I looked up, two cops had appeared within feet of where I was standing. Like Batman or something. (Yes, Batman before it seemed chilling to make reference to him.)

“Oh. Hello,” I said. “Handy of you to appear.”

“We were right there,” said one of the officers, pointing to a side street where another cruiser still remained, lights flashing. “We heard it happen.”

“Yeah,” said the other driver sheepishly. “That’s actually what I was looking at. I saw those guys over there, saw their lights, and I was looking that way when…”

The officers nodded. He’d just admitted fault to them, too. Because of them, even. But not really. This guy was really manning up.

He told me very cordially about how he’s on his mother’s insurance (he’s 27) and she’s going to kill him, because he’s had accidents before and his little sister just had one, too. This is the kind of stuff that would normally lead me to distrust even a nun, but this guy seemed so genuine that I wasn’t worried. I had gone to get my phone to take some pictures (remember before, when we couldn’t do that?) but the battery was low; it wouldn’t let me take any shots.

“Here,” said the other driver. “You can use my phone and I’ll email you the pictures.”

Are you kidding me, dude?

I eyed him with a half-smile on my face. “Really, you will?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I will.”

So I used his phone, which is much nicer than mine, snapped about 10 photos and handed it back. The officers gave us forms so we could fill out each other’s pertinent information and signed off. The other driver found a separate piece of paper and wrote down his email address; I, in turn, wrote down mine.

“So when should I expect to get your email?” I asked, gently making the point that I wouldn’t forget he owed me the photos.

“I’m going to send them to you tonight,” he said. It was midnight already. But sure enough, those photos were in my inbox by the time I went to bed.

Today, as I got out of bed a bit sore in the neck and the low back, I got a call from his… well, his mother’s insurance company. “The insured has already said she will absolutely pay for all the damages, no problem,” the claims agent said.

Well, I’ll be.

Let’s hope the insurance company and my repair shop will play as nicely together as the other driver and I did.

*****
Still time to wander over to Peg-O-Leg’s page and vote (for me, obviously) in her fun contest! There are some brilliant folks in the running… Peg herself is pretty swell… but I’d appreciate your support in my effort toward world blog domination.

It’s admittedly a very slow-moving effort.