I Suppose I Should Have Seen This Coming

It’s a wet day. It’s raining, and everything I’ve been doing in the house is related to water: washing the floor, scrubbing the bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen (and the dishes in the sink), doing laundry. I’d decided to run the washer through a self-cleaning because I’d accidentally left a wet picnic blanket in it for a week. I put some laundry detergent in it and set the cycle. The only thing the electronic read-out tells me is Cln, so I have no idea how long it will take. It does what it does. It’s done when it’s done.

So I don’t know how much later it was that I went to check on it and decided to squat down and watch the process through the door. I was a little surprised that I couldn’t see anything.

That’s because everything was suds. It was up to its top in suds.

Huh. 

Did it do this last time?

Everyone knows a front-loading washing machine is hypnotic. It spins this way and then it stops, and then it spins the other way, and then it stops, and then it does a crazy superspeed spin thing, and you’re just there with your mouth open like, “How does it work?” Or maybe that’s just me, because most people don’t really spend that much time staring at their washing machine. But at some point, a noise broke my trance. A tiny, delicate noise.

Hey… what’s that sound? Is that the rain? 

I cocked my head. Listened.

Waaaaiiit…. that sounds like…

It did not sound like rain.

…SUDS.

Shit.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE EXTERNALLY ORIENTED SUDS.

I peered into the space between a stack of stored paint cans and my stacked washer and dryer.

THE SUDS WERE ESCAPING.

I believe my first thought was, Oh, for fuck’s sake.

You see, it has not been an ideal week. Lots and lots of very bad things happened to good people I know this past week. Four things just on Thursday. That’s, of course, in addition to all the bad things that were happening in all the places with the good people elsewhere, as the universe continues its seemingly unprecedented conspiracy to make everyone on Earth feel like there is absolutely no order to things anymore. And Friday started with a part of my car falling off and dragging beneath it as I drove to work, so that I had to pull into a parking lot, grab a large stick, and shove said part around until it was no longer dragging, so that I could at least get it to a gas station, where a nice young fellow told me I didn’t really need that part anyway, and ripped it off.

"Why did you run over that man?" Eliza wanted to know when I sent her this pic.  "Only way I could get him to stay still," I replied.

“Why did you run over that man?” my friend Eliza wanted to know when I sent her this pic.
“Only way I could get him to stay still,” I replied.

I feel sure the universe will prove him wrong about the car part. Also: does it seem odd to anyone else that there is even such a thing as a car part that isn’t necessary? Don’t misunderstand me: I’ll accept the answer, because the ordeal cost me $20 and not $2,000, but still, that seems odd to me.

I was attacked by a vicious curling iron the other day and have two pretty ugly burns on the inside of my left forearm that would be alarming to anyone who might see them.

One of them looks like a hickey. It is not. It just happens to be two or three colors.

One of them looks like a hickey. It is not. It just happens to be two or three colors.

Today I discovered that the cat had broken one of my grandmother’s porcelain dishes (don’t ask), and then I cut myself with it when I was trying to clean it up.

It's just too gruesome to show you without the bandage. Suffice it to say I had to stop cleaning. Obviously.

It’s just too gruesome to show you without the bandage. Suffice it to say I had to stop cleaning. Obviously.

Obviously, all of these things that have happened are far worse than the cancer diagnoses and wars that have been going on with my friends and other countries. And now I had this sort of Bobby Brady laundry situation happening. Because why wouldn’t it be happening? The universe is coked up and blitzed on an epic bender, hell-bent to prove its power while also being cross-eyed with irrational mania. Of course my washer is vomiting soap bubbles.

I grabbed a towel and squeezed into the space I had to work with, throwing the towel on the concrete floor to sop up as many of the suds as it could get (we were working on about two inches).

This is the space I was squeezed into.

I should not have had that ice cream the other night.

I should not have had that ice cream the other night.

While I was back there, I found the valve the suds were spewing forth from.

Escape hatch

Escape hatch

To  keep the constant output of suds from running down the machine to the floor, I had to hold the towel over it while contorting myself as much as my back would allow to see what was going on inside the washer.

Impenetrable.

Foam fortress.

Once I got everything sopped up, I stared at the washer door for a very long time. The suds were impenetrable. In seeming desperation, the washer kept trying another rinse cycle, but that was only making it worse. I kept squeezing back into the space to wipe the suds off the back of the machine before they’d make it to the floor, then coming back around to the front to stare at the door, willing the suds to thin just enough for me to see some sign that it might be over soon. I didn’t feel like I could leave my station for more than a few minutes at a time, so I kept running up and down the basement steps to try to get other things done before going back to check on what was going on with the machine. I think it took about two hours before there was a break in the wall of white and I could see steel.

Really, really clean steel.

Eliza and Jay’s youngest daughter is staying with me this weekend while her sister is on vacation with a friend and her parents are out of town on a quick romantic getaway, and she had come knocking while all this was happening. Fortunately, she’s used to a relatively steady dose of madness, and, being the rare delightful 14-year-old girl, just sat sweetly on the loveseat upstairs in the living room, texting her friends, while I pretended to have my household in hand. Now that she’s hanging out with a friend who’s been overseas for several months, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a text that she’s accidentally gouged out an eye.

It’s just the way the week has been going.

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The Problem With Privilege

I can’t possibly have anything unique to say about pretty much anything relating to over-reactive police, racial tension, media, or  anything else that factors into the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week.  But in the constructs of American life, there is a certain element that we just can’t seem to see our way through.

I’ve read a lot of reports and opinions from professionals and amateurs; one of the great ironies of the Internet is that it gives everyone the same volume at which to speak, which means people who should probably just sit down and shut up get a megaphone that amplifies their voices just as loudly as those who know far more than anyone else about whatever topic is discussed. The result, often, is the wider dissemination of what is inflammatory rather than what is rational and measured, because inflammation is more visceral and therefore more instinctive. I believe that’s why demonstrations that begin with one goal end up a melange of goals and opinions, and things that start off peacefully end up sporadically disruptive.

In everything we’ve read and seen, it seems there is a lot of visceral reaction, natural and instinctive, that leads to accusation and defense—or defensiveness. Sometimes these are overt. Other times, less so. It’s when the accusations and defenses are less obvious that I think the most trouble arises, because it’s harder to know what just happened.

To me, one of the most interesting forms of inferred accusation and applied defensiveness centers on the concept of white privilege.

For the record: I’m white. So I can’t pretend to fully grasp the perspective a person of color would bring to this situation. But I also live in a dense urban area, in a city whose majority population is black. (And I use the term “black” deliberately; not all “black” people trace their heritage to Africa, which means they are not all African-American.) In my environment, to not acknowledge white privilege is to basically stay in my house and never look out the window or turn on the news. Which isn’t to say there aren’t people in my environment who don’t understand the construct.

I used to rebel a little against the idea of white privilege, because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t being blamed for something and I wasn’t being defined as better-off, necessarily. I’m not sure when I realized what it really was, but I think it was some time around when the stalker thing happened, because it had a lot to do with what motivated me to take activist action; I realized I could use my privilege to benefit other people, not as some great, benevolent white lady, but as someone the system automatically took more seriously and cared more about because I was white. (I also speak what people would categorize as proper English, with no discernable accent.) In all of my reading this week, I have come across a few essays and op-eds from white people who are upset about being assigned a kind of privilege, saying things like, “I refuse to apologize.” The content of their writing reveals that they just don’t know the definition of white privilege.

White privilege is simply about the fact that white people do not have to deal with the possibility of being underrepresented, mistreated, suspected or demeaned, as persons of color.

For example: If I walk down the street in the dark, no one is going to look at me sideways, unless he or she is concerned for my safety. But if a person of color – a black or latino person, in my community – walks down the street in the dark, someone is going to wonder, “What’s he up to? Where did he come from? Does he live here? Where is he going?”

If I get pulled over by a police officer, I will have no reason to wonder if it’s because of my race. (The only time I got pulled over and didn’t deserve it was when an officer thought I was talking on my cell phone, and all I had to say was, “Oh! No, I wasn’t.” That is literally all I had to say. He believed me even before I offered to let him see my phone’s call and text message logs, and he let me go without checking them. If I were a man of color, the odds would be much higher that he wouldn’t believe me, or that he would take me up on my offer to see my phone’s logs.)

In fact, getting pulled over after having done nothing in violation of the law is much less likely to happen to me than it is to a person of color, and my story is more likely to be believed.

When I go through airport security, no one thinks they should look in my bag; if it’s searched, it’s purely because of a randomized approach. But when my friend Adhira goes through airport security, there’s a greater chance that someone will think that because she is Pakistani (they might not know she’s Pakistani; they’ll just know she’s brown and looks Middle Eastern), they should search her bag.

And the chances of me, a white woman with no criminal record, being shot by a police officer are essentially zero. Whereas the chances of a person of color with no criminal record being shot by a police officer are higher. Statistically speaking, even if I was armed, even if I was threatening, the chances of me being shot by a police officer are still lower than if I were an unarmed person of color. Thirty-seven of 45 people shot by police in Oakland, California between 2004 and 2008 were black. None of them were white. In 40 percent of the cases, the person who was shot was unarmed. (No officers were charged. Other shows of force were not categorized in the data set.)

My whiteness means not only that I am presumed innocent more often, but also that I am presumed more innocent than a person of color. I am presumed to be a better person. Even when I have done something wrong, and even when a person of color has not.

That’s white privilege. It’s not my fault. It’s just a side effect of my having been born white. For persons of color, suspicion is a side effect of having been born something else.

You’d be irritated about it, too, after a while.

But here’s what dawned on me while reading an essay today written by a Princeton University student some months ago: white people tend to look at privilege differently. We think of it as socioeconomic. Of course we do; we’ve never faced discrimination—or incrimination—because of anything else. So we reflexively resent when someone seems to accuse us of having an advantage, because, if we’re socioeconomically comfortable and not trust fund babies, we probably did have to work to get where we are in life. Because we have never had to struggle to be considered equal in any other respect, our only understanding of privilege comes from the idea of money. But for people of color, the struggle to be seen as equal goes way beyond lines of credit and sizes of homes. It’s rather telling, isn’t it? We define everything by our own perspective…including our own privilege. Maybe if white people were better able to understand how other people define privilege, we’d be collectively more able to understand why so many people don’t have it.

Maybe then a lot of things would get better.

This Is Not Yet 40

“Are we old enough for this?!” the Ohio 5 tends to ask each other. We’ve kind of morphed out of “We’re too young for this,” because we’re pretty much not too young for a whole lot anymore. But the nuanced former question comes up with somewhat surprising frequency.

It’s not really because of our own respective, and relatively minor (though increasingly surgical), maladies. Two are married with children, two are aging, single gays (oh, they would just hate me for saying that), and then there’s me. Our lives, in general, while happy, are fairly banal.

I have had occasion to think about a lot of things in the last week or two. A lot of very heavy things. Thinking about heavy things makes me feel old and tired. It’s lovely to avoid that. Being an old soul who has recently found a sort of invigoration of forgotten youth, I have been able to shut out some heavy thinking. I needed to develop that ability.

But if you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you have come to know that I can be both incredibly shallow and really pretty deep, sometimes at the same time, and I can’t have one without the other. I would like to believe this is true of most, if not all, of us. If not, I imagine this must be maddening to try to understand from a not-me perspective.

And so it is with the stuff I’ve thought about for the last couple of weeks, alternating between a cavalier thought, a smart-ass comment, and a stare-at-the-wall-for-an-hour bout of What Does It All Mean? There’s the shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine. The actual warring there. The warring in Israel and Gaza and who is the more murderous party (I have my thoughts, and turn them over, regularly). The chaos in Libya. Ebola in Liberia. Endless instability and insurgent takeover in Iraq after more than a decade of American blood and treasure to save it from itself.

There is the House GOP deciding to sue the president for delaying something they’ve been screaming about being against, anyway. The refugee/immigration struggle and its heartbreaking human toll.  The disappointment, even for a lot of his supporters, that is President Obama. The general nightmare that is Congress, which nobody likes anyway, but now likes even less. There is what I see in the streets of my city every day: generational poverty, lack of education, joblessness, ill health, homelessness, lack of opportunity, lack of respect for self and others. I think about that a lot. Every morning on the way to work, and every night on the way home.

I thought about this stuff when I was younger, but usually from the perspective of an impassioned academic or idealistic observer. Now I think about it with a sense of connection I didn’t have before.

My cousin, already a single mother of a ten-year-old, is pregnant. Her father—my uncle—died of leukemia 14 years ago. She just finished putting herself through school for her BSN and got a job as a geriatric nurse. She moved out of my aunt’s house. She’s pregnant by a… well, I won’t call him what we call him in today’s vernacular; I’ll just say he’s a casual partner, who already has two other children. In this twisted world and her struggle of a life, sex in a car that she swears did not result in his satisfaction has somehow resulted in her conception of fraternal triplets.

I understand biology as much as the next person, but what. The. ACTUAL. FUCK.

I wonder sometimes, as a relatively spiritual person, how God or the universe or whatever you want to call it can be so overwhelmingly mysterious on a good day and just really messed up on a bad one as to govern a world in which so many people despair of their inability to have a child while people who could not possibly want one less can wind up conceiving three at once and announce their intention to keep all three. (Unspoken risks remaining unspoken.)

You might realize already that the news of her pregnancy led me right back to the generational poverty/lack of education/lack of opportunity/lack of respect for self and others thing.

My dear friend Will’s father died yesterday. He’d been in the hospital for six weeks with diabetes-related heart and kidney problems. Thursday morning, he arrested. They did CPR and intubated him, and Will jumped on a plane from Seattle. He arrived in Ohio just after midnight. His father died 14 hours later, as hospital staff were transferring him from a bed to a gurney to take him to inpatient hospice and take him off life support. Will had gone to carry some things to his mother’s car. Will’s father is the third parent in the Ohio 5 group to die. None have been older than 65. Two had diabetes-related heart problems.

My friend Kyle’s father was just diagnosed with a rare duodenal cancer. He is 51.

Amanda learned she has a stress fracture in her femur from the tumor and her weight. She has to find out whether she needs surgery to stabilize the bone, and whether that will derail her weekly chemo treating stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. She is 43.

My former coworker, Cedric, also died yesterday. Out of nowhere. He owned a gym, which is where his wife found him right after he collapsed, surrounded by personal trainers using the portable defibrillator. She’d had a funny feeling and doubled back on her way to work. He was 45.

Also, Facebook crashed yesterday. For like an hour. It was awful. I could not post pithy status updates about Facebook being down because Facebook was down.

Some of our brighter citizens called 911 about it.

Did not make that up.

I don’t really know where all of this is going. I started writing this post last night and then, bleary-eyed and exhausted from so much of life’s thinking, went to bed and left it to marinate. Today I find myself with even less direction. The initial plan to get as many of us to Ohio from our far-flung reaches for the funeral, with the understanding that Joey couldn’t be there that day, but would see the family a few days later on a trip he’d coincidentally already planned, has morphed into a plan to converge 36 hours later because Will would prefer that we could all be there at once. (This, for the record, never ends well.) We have joked more than once during funeral plans (we’ve had one every year since 2009) that it’s our version of “The Big Chill.”

That movie is 31 years old.

So I guess we are old enough.